How to Be Creative While Following Rules

by Mike Brown

How to Be Creative While Following RulesA number of years ago an “executive coach” (and I use the phrase extremely skeptically in his case) gave me a DISC profile to determine my personality style so we could plan our strategy for working together. He came back with his analysis of the results to inform me I wasn’t strategic, didn’t get how to be creative, and was only concerned with following the rules.

That I was currently leading the strategic marketing and marketing communications efforts in our Fortune 500 company, was doing a great job (based on all the feedback), and was viewed as a cheerleader for creative change in our organization didn’t have a place in his DISC profile analysis.

Reconsidering Rules and Creativity

Always trying to learn from even stupid encounters, his comment about me following the rules prompted thinking about my relationship to rules. In one sense, the analysis was spot on since I do love to precisely know all about whatever I’m doing to make sure I’m “following” the rules.

What the test missed, however, was the big step in between knowing and following the rules where I apply a lot of creativity: I love exploiting every angle, loophole, omission, and unintended consequence of the rules to win the game.

And by “game,” I mean anything in life where there’s a win/lose opportunity including work, career, personal relationships, and all the silly stuff too, such as sports, getting to the airport fastest, and my granddaddy game of all time, Monopoly.

How to Be Creative Around the Rules

Here’s my rationale for getting all the rules down upfront. Obviously somebody spent a lot of time coming up with them and is very invested in others following the rules. When you blatantly challenge rules or break them outright, you tend to wind up in a back-and-forth confrontation and discussion about why the rules are or aren’t right. When you reach that conversation, you typically face a fairly low probability of changing the mind of the authority figure protecting the rules.

To me, all that discussion represents energy, creativity, and effort which aren’t going into WINNING the game.

I’d rather get all the rules out there in the open, make sure they’re not going to get changed mid-stream, and expend all my energy, creativity, and effort into approaching whatever the game is in completely unheard of ways. I want to pour everything I have into taking advantage of smarts, tenacity, and hard work to WIN in a way no one has ever thought of or been able to successfully pull off while still following all the game’s dos and don’ts.

When it’s all over, the game’s authority figure has no standing to waste my time with arguments about rules being violated. Instead, they’re left to reflect silently on how in the world what just happened, happened.

That’s not to say rule challengers aren’t using incredible extreme creativity to create fantastic success. In fact, because of my approach, I’ve tended to pair up with extreme rule challengers quite successfully in my career. They wound up keeping the authorities occupied while I’d lead the rest of the team in designing the strategy and implementation to WIN the game.

My Approach for How to Be Creative

So yeah, you can accuse me of following rules, but I’m still going to figure out how to be creative in working them over every which way possible to help my team win.

What’s your attitude toward following rules? Anybody with me on this one?


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Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning innovator in strategy, communications, and experience marketing. He authors the BrainzoomingTM blog, and serves as the company’s chief Catalyst. He wrote the ebook “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” and is a frequent keynote presenter.

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  1. Creativity is the intersection between Exploiting and Exploring the rules. Exploiting the rules is optimizing what is working and adding value. Exploring the rules is to challenge the status quo and create new value. The intersection between the two is a tension area where creativity and innovation happens.

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