I recently read a newsletter by Raghav Haran, job search strategist and B2B content marketer, on how he picked up a new language in eight weeks and bypassed his college’s requirement that you need two years of language classes to graduate.
In his story, he wrote something that really stuck with me:
[Our] whole lives we’re told to ‘never take shortcuts’ and ‘be patient.’ If I took the advice most people told me, I would’ve wasted two full years of my life taking these extra courses, and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition money…Down the road, I started seeing similar things happen in other areas of life—some people hack their way to fast promotions in their career, while others ‘work their way up.’ Some people make career leaps and land jobs they were unqualified for on paper, while others wait to get the ‘right experience’…I learned that those who are afraid to ‘break the rules’ a little bit and test unconventional strategies end up wasting way more time (and sometimes waste more money) trying to find success.
It’s true, right? We see people all the time breaking the rules at work and not suffering consequences, but rather being rewarded for their daring nature. And, some rules need to be broken to leave room for more exciting opportunities.
Well, not all of us have the luxury of going rogue. Maybe our jobs require us to consistently follow a schedule or strategy, or our boss is overbearingly set in his ways.
So, how can you take some risks in a role that limits your creativity and innovation? Here are some situations where it’s OK to set your own agenda (within reason, I’m not your boss after all):
1. When You’re Not Given Strict Guidelines
When your boss doesn’t give you specific instructions on an assignment, or is only interested in the end result—a revenue target, a users goal, a set number of new clients—they probably care little about how you get there, just as long as you do.
That being said, there are some rules you definitely have to follow. Maybe there’s a script for what you can and can’t say to prospects, or a pool of people only you’re allowed to reach out to. But if you keep these in mind, the rest can be up to you to innovate a bit.
2. When You’re Given the Go-Ahead to Run With a Project
On the flip side, if your boss gives you explicit permission to run with a project as you wish, that’s not only your green light to get creative, but also an indication that they want to see you—if not, require you to—take ownership of your work. This means you should be breaking rules when you see more potential for growth, both for you and for the company.
3. When There’s Clearly a Better Opportunity
Along with this, if you see your team losing out on a better opportunity because they’re stuck in their ways, this could be your chance to prove breaking the rules a bit is beneficial for everyone.
Note: This scenario applies to smaller, less significant things—say, switching up your meeting routine or skipping a deadline to work on something more important. I’d take a guess that you don’t have the authority to make huge changes to your department or company’s strategy without asking for permission or getting all your information straight first (but more on that later).
4. When the Old Rules Are Obsolete
Your company may shift its focus constantly—especially if it’s young, smaller, or part of an ever-changing industry. This means that guidelines that were important a month ago may not apply now. And when they become obsolete, this opens up doors for you to explore new strategies, perspectives, and projects.
Of course, before you do anything out of the ordinary, understand why your company decided to change course and what the new rules are so you’re not overlapping with current processes or chasing after an irrelevant dream.
5. When You Ask for Permission
Finally—and this applies to all of the situations above—when you ask for something, sometimes you get it (crazy, I know!).
If you can make a case to your manager that certain rules need to be broken—it’ll help productivity, it’ll help you better reach your goals, it’ll make it easier to collaborate with other teams—you just might sway them to change their ways, and, even better, get them to help you out. And, by getting their permission first, you’re saving face if it doesn’t work out, and avoiding the fallout of going behind their back.
Of course, even in these situations it’s possible taking the leap will result in a botched project or worse, upset your boss. It’s only normal that the more risk you take, the higher your chances of failure. (And if you do fail, read this to overcome a huge mistake.)
But on the flip side, when things work out for the better—which, when you follow your gut, they usually do—you’ll not only be proud you took the leap, but might just convince your boss to give you more flexibility and freedom in your work.