One of the most highlighted, and talked about, stories in the Steve Jobs biography is about his audacious rule breaking ways such as not putting a license plate on his car, or parking in handicap spaces. Many reporters concluded that Jobs didn’t think the rules applied to him.
Like many, when I first heard about Jobs’ rule breaking ways, it put a sour taste in my mouth, but then I started to take a deeper look at my own life and relationship with rules. The deeper I looked, the more I realized that I treated many rules and guidelines as something other people needed to follow to keep order in the world, but not me. In fact many times, rules are just another obstacle, or challenge, I believe I have to overcome.
And apparently the apple, no pun intended, doesn’t fall far from tree. Last month, I went home to Chicago to visit my parents for a few days. On my last day, I was late in leaving their house to catch my return flight. My mom asked if I wanted to make a quick stop at a store to pick up a few things to bring with me. I said no, as I worried about making my flight. But once we got in the car and on the road, she insisted we had time, so I said ok. At the store, my mom pulled her car right up to the fire lane next to the front door, and parked. I waited in the car staring at the “do not park in the fire lane” sign as she ran into the store. This wasn’t the first time I waited in our family car in a fire lane. That’s when it hit me, my parents have been rule benders their whole life. I’m a rule bender. I bet my kids will end up being rule benders, despite my wife’s extreme aversion to rule breaking.
My current hypothesis is that every innovator has some rule bending DNA in them. I think that’s the nature of innovation…a new way of doing something for a better outcome. Rules, guidelines, and status quo are meant to keep order and keep things the way they are. Innovators get us to see that some of our rules and guidelines are silly and need to change.
The catch is that the same rule bending DNA that gets someone like Steve Jobs to invent the ipod or iphone, will also make him not see the audacity of driving without a license plate, or my mom for parking in the fire line, or me for trying to use a coupon after it has expired or opening an emergency exit door even though it says “do not open.”
The line between innovating rule bending and obnoxious rule breaking is thin…but one that every innovator walks.
So onward my little rule benders, go and change the world…one rule at a time.
p.s. But make sure you don’t bend on your values and morals .