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How to Break All the Rules

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How to Break All the Rules

How to Break All the Rules

    Rules, they say, are meant to be broken. Not all the time, of course — we are, after all, trying to have a society here. But while rules help, most of the time, to create an orderly and well-regulated society, sometimes their lack of flexibility hinders our creativity, and thus our ability to solve the problems that confront us.

    Months ago, I wrote a post about improvisation advising readers to “Learn the rules, so you can break them.” Too often, people think that the breakability of rules means that they should be broken, early and often — and if that’s the case, it’s not worth bothering to learn them at all.

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    That’s not the case; in fact, it’s a pretty simple matter to tell the consistent rule-breaking of the ignorant and inexperienced from the proficient rule-breaking of the master. The master’s rule-breaking gains strength from her or his understanding of what the rules do, how they work, and why they are, most of the time, crucial.

    There are, one could say, rules for rule-breaking, and it is these rules (along with all the others) that the lasy rule-breaker doesn’t know or understand. Here’s an example:

    • Break the rules as a last resort. Whether you’re talking about writing and grammar, music composition, artistic composition, marketing, business management, or anything else, the rules that people usually follow exist for a good reason: most of the time, they work. Stepping outside the rules requires more energy, more forethought, more planning, and more creativity — in short, more work — and effective writers, composers, marketers, business people, and people from every other walk of life don’t lightly waste their efforts fixing what already works well. Rule-breaking is the step you turn to when the rules fail to work.
    • Rule-breaking gains its power from the strength of rules, not their weakness. The ability of the great rule-breakers to shock and amaze us — from Van Gogh to Philip Roth to Ron Paul to Steve jobs — relies on the expectations the rules create. Constant rule-breaking creates the expectation of constant rule-breaking, which pretty soon loses its appeal. Master rule-breakers walk a narrow line between genius and incoherence; inexpert rule-breakers are usually simply incoherent.
    • For every broken rule there are a dozen unbroken ones. Or a hundred, or a thousand. The ratio doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that the best rule-breakers follow almost all the rules. Consider the rules of grammar and style: almost all great writers know the value of simple sentences, a lack of unnecessary verbiage, and adherence to basic rules of grammar — and their writing is generally built around those principles, because to ignore them is to create a morass of incomprehensible gibberish. A word salad, if you will: throw everything in a bowl, toss it around a little, and slop it onto your plate.
    • For every broken rule, there is a reason. The inexperienced rule-breaker breaks the rules because s/he doesn’t know any better. The master rule-breaker breaks the rules because, after careful consideration, s/he has decided that the most effective and meaningful way to get something done was to break a rule. They have an explanation for every single step outside the accepted boundaries of the “right and proper”.
    • Accept the consequences. When called on the carpet to defend his or her choices, the ignorant rule-breaker is defensive and feels put upon. S/he tries to wriggle out of the consequences, seeing them as “The Man’s” effort to keep her or him down. The master, on the other hand, embraces the consequences, knowing that s/he was right to make the decisions s/he made — or that, if those decisions turned out to be wrong, that s/he made them in good faith and for the right reasons.

    There’s a scene in Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard that sums up perfectly this approach to the rules. Rabo Karabekian, an artist reknowned for his giant canvases covered with single colors of household latex paint applied with a roller, is talking with his friend Slazinger in his studio:

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    “Tell me, Rabo–” said Slazinger, “if I put on that same paint with the same roller, would the picture still be a Karabekian?”

    “Absolutely,” I said, “provided you have in reserve what Karabekian has in reserve.”

    “Like what?” he said.

    “Like this,” I said. There was dust in a pothole in the floor, and I picked up some of it on the balls of both my thumbs. Working both thumbs simultaneously, I sketched a caricature of Slazinger’s face on the canvas in thirty seconds.

    “Jesus!” he said. “I had no idea you could draw like that!”

    “You’re looking at a man who has options,” I said.

    For the “wild child” who just can’t be bothered to learn the rules, because they were meant to be broken anyway and because his or her creative spirit is too strong to be held down by rules, man, there are no options. There is only a string of broken rules and all the misunderstanding, chaos, and incoherence that goes along with them. The master, though, knows that the rules are not only options, but usually the best options. And when they aren’t, s/he knows. S/he has in reserve what Karabekian has in reserve: true mastery.

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    Last Updated on November 15, 2021

    20 Ways to Describe Yourself in a Job Interview

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    20 Ways to Describe Yourself in a Job Interview

    “Please describe yourself in a few words”.

    It’s the job interview of your life and you need to come up with something fast. Mental pictures of words are mixing in your head and your tongue tastes like alphabet soup. You mutter words like “deterministic” or “innovativity” and you realize you’re drenched in sweat. You wish you had thought about this. You wish you had read this post before.

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      Image Credit: Career Employer

      Here are 20 sentences that you could use when you are asked to describe yourself. Choose the ones that describe you the best.

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      “I am someone who…”:

      1. “can adapt to any situation. I thrive in a fluctuating environment and I transform unexpected obstacles into stepping stones for achievements.”
      2. “consistently innovates to create value. I find opportunities where other people see none: I turn ideas into projects, and projects into serial success.”
      3. “has a very creative mind. I always have a unique perspective when approaching an issue due to my broad range of interests and hobbies. Creativity is the source of differentiation and therefore, at the root of competitive advantage.”
      4. “always has an eye on my target. I endeavour to deliver high-quality work on time, every time. Hiring me is the only real guarantee for results.”
      5. “knows this job inside and out. With many years of relevant experience, there is no question whether I will be efficient on the job. I can bring the best practices to the company.”
      6. “has a high level of motivation to work here. I have studied the entire company history and observed its business strategies. Since I am also a long-time customer, I took the opportunity to write this report with some suggestions for how to improve your services.”
      7. “has a pragmatic approach to things. I don’t waste time talking about theory or the latest buzz words of the bullshit bingo. Only one question matters to me: ‘Does it work or not?'”
      8. “takes work ethics very seriously. I do what I am paid for, and I do it well.”
      9. “can make decisions rapidly if needed. Everybody can make good decisions with sufficient time and information. The reality of our domain is different. Even with time pressure and high stakes, we need to move forward by taking charge and being decisive. I can do that.”
      10. “is considered to be ‘fun.’ I believe that we are way more productive when we are working with people with which we enjoy spending time. When the situation gets tough with a customer, a touch of humour can save the day.”
      11. “works as a real team-player. I bring the best out of the people I work with and I always do what I think is best for the company.”
      12. “is completely autonomous. I won’t need to be micromanaged. I won’t need to be trained. I understand high-level targets and I know how to achieve them.”
      13. “leads people. I can unite people around a vision and motivate a team to excellence. I expect no more from the others than what I expect from myself.”
      14. “understands the complexity of advanced project management. It’s not just pushing triangles on a GANTT chart; it’s about getting everyone to sit down together and to agree on the way forward. And that’s a lot more complicated than it sounds.”
      15. “is the absolute expert in the field. Ask anybody in the industry. My name is on their lips because I wrote THE book on the subject.”
      16. “communicates extensively. Good, bad or ugly, I believe that open communication is the most important factor to reach an efficient organization.”
      17. “works enthusiastically. I have enough motivation for myself and my department. I love what I do, and it’s contagious.”
      18. “has an eye for details because details matter the most. How many companies have failed because of just one tiny detail? Hire me and you’ll be sure I’ll find that detail.”
      19. “can see the big picture. Beginners waste time solving minor issues. I understand the purpose of our company, tackle the real subjects and the top management will eventually notice it.”
      20. “is not like anyone you know. I am the candidate you would not expect. You can hire a corporate clone, or you can hire someone who will bring something different to the company. That’s me. “

      Featured photo credit: Tim Gouw via unsplash.com

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