About Breaking The Rules

by  John E. Smith  |  Leadership Development
About Breaking The Rules

David Burkus is a very dangerous man …

In Myths of Creativity, he punctured my long-held beliefs about creativity, including those which I had cherished because they absolved me of all responsibility for being creative. I could no longer simply relax and say “I’m not the creative type,” even though it made life much easier for me.

Well, once again, Burkus is disturbing my sense of comfortableness with the aptly named Under New Management. This time, he is really out for blood … the tired blood of old management and leadership practices, which we intuitively understand to be less than effective, but have allowed to continue long after their usefulness (if it once existed) has passed.

To understand how disruptive Burkus’s new book is, it simply has to hover near or at the top of your “Must Read” list. The book is provocative and unsettling to those of us who shrink from the challenge of dislodging some very well-entrenched processes in many large systems.

As you read specific chapters which attack long-standing business practices, such as “Ditch Performance Appraisals,” “Pay People to Quit,” or my personal favorite “Fire The Managers,” I imagine you will start nodding your head in agreement with his clear-eyed and fresh perspectives…

… but that’s not the point of this post.

When we consider engaging in the type of systemic change that David Burkus espouses and think about joyfully dismantling What Was in order to create What Should Be, we have to consider a hard truth:

We just may be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution …

While many of us have spent decades either secretly or openly advocating for these type of changes, we do so while envisioning ourselves as the freedom fighters on the barricades, rather than the robotic police lined up, armed, and ready to repress the rebellion.

Three quick questions for us all to consider at this point, all based on the assumption that the changes in Under New Management are generally valid and desired:

Why haven’t we already done all this?

If we are honest, most of these changes are long-overdue and well-known to us. So we have to consider the reasons for not having made the leap years ago. Security, fear of the unknown, lack of support … many reasons exist for why we have not done what we needed to do in the past.

Knowing why we have not changed prepares us TO change.

How have I personally helped maintain the status quo, rather than support needed changes?

Beyond knowing, we usually act in ways that either actively or tacitly support the status quo. If we are to change and help others change, we have to identify these situations and make different choices.

When we change our choices, we change the outcomes.

What do I need to do now to change this?

Burkus gives some good general directions on how to effect this magnitude of change, but we still need to drill down the personal level and consider our own changes, in order to support and create the larger changes.

Before we can change a system, we have to change ourselves.

Change can be good and change can be needed, but we have to prepare ourselves to choose our change role wisely. Real change requires more preparation than thinking about and answering a few questions in a blog post. However, you probably have already had some experience doing this.

How have you personally prepared to support needed systemic changes?

Which of the three changes David Burkus recommends has the most potential, in your opinion?
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About The Author

Articles By john-smith
I enjoy helping people learn and grow through intentional, strategic, and social interventions. I coach, teach, train, facilitate, organize, write, speak, design, and lead at the intersection of leadership, learning, and human behavior. I am a CCE Board Certified Coach (BCC) with specializations in both Leadership/Business and Life/Personal coaching. My primary blog is The Strategic Learner on Wordpress.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jane Anderson  |  28 Mar 2016  |  Reply

So I was trying to figure out how to tell you I love this post without starting out in the ‘same old way’ – you know, like: another great post or thought provoking or insightful or introspective or – see? Your post is all of those. An my comment leads right up to my answer to the question “Which of the three changes David Burkus recommends has the most potential, in your opinion?” Others might have a different answer but in my mind this is the hinge: When we change our choices, we change the outcomes.

Last time I checked, choices are at the beginning of all outcomes.

John E. Smith  |  28 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Jane – thanks for commenting:)

You have nailed it … the choices we make determine who we are and what we do. Amazingly simple, and yet many folks insist on finding some outside force to blame for their lot.

I realize that world events, societal and economic conditions, and just plain happenstance often shape what we have to decide on, but the reality remains that how we react to things is always our choice.

For backup on this one, just read some of Viktor Frankel’s work.

As always, your participation in our ongoing discussions is both welcome and valued:)


Paul LaRue  |  28 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Good Morning John!

You have a great ability to see the overview big picture and weave the undercurrent of what needs to change within each of us. David Burkus’ new book is already one of my must-reads for the year, and perhaps now on my top leadership books of all time.

This is a great challenge to us all in how to “break the rules” in our own roles to affect change. Your post today helps us really stop-and-think about where we’re headed and if we’re making those changes to either improve or maintain.

Well done John, thank you!

John E. Smith  |  28 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Thanks, Paul – I am deeply appreciative of your kind words.

Yes, Burkus has worked his way into my inner circle of inspiration and wisdom as well. He has a nice writing style and the ability to lay things out so clearly that I have a permanent forehead mark from saying “Well, of course …” and slapping myself:).

Like Jane Anderson says and you have amplified, it really is all about our choices.

Easier to go with the flow or hoot derisively from the sidelines, at least from what I see happening too often in the workplace. Intentional and effective choices are neither easy or safe, but that is one of the essential skills to be developed, both for leadership and for life.

Thanks – always enjoy your contributions through your posts and your thoughtful comments.


Mary C. Schaefer  |  28 Mar 2016  |  Reply

John, you can do what I consider the un-doable — inspire me to get YET ANOTHER book! I have so many, yet you make the case for me to add to my pile.

AND… you posed some great questions. Thank you for giving us a taste of David’s new book and challenging us to challenge ourselves around some old paradigms.

My Best,

John E. Smith  |  28 Mar 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Mary:)

Dang … you guessed my secret mission … surreptiously influence people to buy more books:)

I don’t really feel bad about influencing you around this book or the ideas in it, of course. This is stuff I have advocated for a very long time and David’s book is one of the most compelling arguments to actually move forward.

Actually, I would guess that you are right there with us on these change inititatives:)


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