in Startups

What’s the point of following rules?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur Hiten Shah who’s latest startup is KISSmetrics. Follow him on Twitter @hnshah. This post was originally published June 4, 2011 via his email newsletter Hitenism which you should definitely sign up for!

By Antony Turner

When we were kids, rules were used to teach us basic right and wrong; when we got to grade school, we were taught to follow them no matter what. By the time we become adults, playing by the rules is so ingrained in us that we never question why some rules exist, but you should, especially if you’re an entrepreneur.

Why? Because if you’re an entrepreneur, rules aren’t your friend. Rules are designed to make you blend in, when as an entrepreneur, what you really want to do is stand out from the crowd.

The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be. Just ask Richard Branson; he’s been breaking lots of rules and things have turned out well for him over the years (he runs that little company you may have heard of… Virgin). He believes so fiercely in breaking the rules that he thinks you should empower employees to do the same, believing it drives business forward.

Breaking the rules isn’t about being a trouble-maker, it’s about seeing the world as a series of norms and identifying places where you can disrupt things for the greater good: a better product, a smarter solution, a streamlined process. Flouting the social order can mean innovation, change, and even success.

  1. The trick is to know which rules you can break, which you can bend a little, and which are inviolable. You also need to be able to tell when the rules about the rules (ie. which you can break, bend or must adhere to) have changed, and what was once breakable is now unforgivable, or what was inviolable is now malleable. It varies based on customers, employees, industry and regulation. A really important trait is knowing when something isn’t really a rule, people just assume it is, so you aren’t really breaking it, it just looks like it. This is what separates a trouble maker from an innovator.

  2. re: “Breaking the rules isn’t about being a trouble-maker…” is spot-on Hiten! and thank god that the founders of disruptors like Prosper and Skype didn’t think any different, eh!



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