Bend the rules, don’t break them

Gaining a competitive edge lies in a clever interpretation of the rule book.

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Lancia is a small, Italian car manufacturer who wanted to go up against Audi in the World Rally Championship.

Audi, the only 4-wheel drive car in the championship, was more than equipped to win against the 2-wheel drive Lancia, especially in the colder regions where ice covered the track.

But Lancia knew that there was more than one way to skin a cat and they were determined to win.

Early in the morning on race day, their mechanics went out onto the track with large quantities of salt, and covered every icy patch on the road. Not only that, but with every other team geared up for ice, Lancia knew they would win on the now dry roads. So they entered not just two cars, or three, but a total of five cars in the race.

They blew Audi out of the water.

There were no rules that limited the number of cars you could enter per race, but Lancia seemed to be the only team who exploited this opportunity. They pulled this ‘trick’ three more times and took home that year’s championship.

The next year, unsurprisingly, the rules were changed.

This spirit of using the rules to your advantage followed by the handful of employees at Lancia is by no means unique. In fact, one enterprising man built his company off the back of this mentality:

“Virgin could never have grown into the group of more than 200 companies it is now, were it not for a steady stream of intrapreneurs who looked for and developed opportunities, often leading efforts that went against the grain.” — Sir Richard Branson

Branson realised that if what made Virgin successful in the beginning was to be sustained over time as the company grew he would have to allow the intrapreneurial spirit to thrive.

So how did he do this?

By encouraging his employees to bend the rules.

Branson urged everyone in his company to use the rules as a guide, rather than as a list of things they must do. (They point you in the right direction, but they don’t tell you exactly how to do it).

To carry out this approach successfully, you need to know the rulebook of your own organisation better than anyone else. Read it, read it again, and then read it once more.

That’s the only way you can bend the rules without jeopardising yourself or your company in the process.

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