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The strategy of rule-breaking

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Despite Malawi being branded as one of the poorest countries in the world, there are still some citizens who are attaining the financial status of millionaires.

Paradoxically, this is happening when others are losing their fortunes and becoming paupers. It is the same story in the corporate world.

As some companies are increasing their turnovers and profitability, others are struggling and are on the verge of collapse.

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Recent developments tell it all prompting others to ask: Why should a single bank post a colossal loss in an industry where even newest players chalk profits?

Why should a mobile phone company be posting losses continuously when all others players in that industry are posting profits?

At individual level the same questions can be extrapolated.

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Why should professionals who graduated in the same year and got employed at the same time, end up in two different worlds with some being complete failures and others great achievers? Almost everyone wants to be successful, yet in reality some make it and others fail.

Hundreds and hundreds of books have been written on how individuals and companies can kiss goodbye to their financial woes and become successful.

Having read dozens and dozens of such books, I have discovered that conspicuously missing in them is the principle of rulebreaking, which is part of risktaking.

There are times that you can do everything but still fail to succeed simply because you are not a rule breaker.

There are many Malawians who work hard but fail to succeed in life because they are not rule breakers. Success is not only attained by working hard but by challenging the status quo even if it means being labelled a maverick or the odd one out.

I am mindful of the fact that there are many formulas for success including simple ones which entails formulation of a vision, an action plan, resource mobilisation and the execution of the first steps.

Much as such a process is very useful, it is important to realise that achieving success is not a popularity contest and success is rarely won by playing it safe. When you are on the path to success, ingenuity, improvisation and daring become part of the game instead of following rules to the letter.

A look at some of the world’s successful people shows that they are rule breakers. One example of a rule breaker is Jack Welch who Fortune Magazine in 1999 recognised as the “Manager of the Century.”

Welch turned around the fortunes of GE by drastically streamlining its operations. He did it by reducing management from 29 levels to only six.

Without blinking, he fired a huge percentage of his subordinates earning a moniker “Neutron Jack” for sacking many employees.

Despite an avalanche of criticism heaped on him, the outcome of his rule-breaking approach saw the value of GE grow from $12 billion to $280 billion. He was a maverick who broke the chains of bureaucracy at GE by championing the philosophy of informality.

Jack Welch is not the only rule breaker who made it to the top. Another prominent rule breaker is Sam Walton who at the end of his autobiography, Made in America, put it bluntly that the most important rule in business is to break all the rules.

“I always prided myself on breaking everybody else’s rules, and I always favoured the mavericks who challenged my rules,” wrote Walton whose innovative and daring approach to business established the worldwide Wal-Mart chain.

As can be seen from the above two examples, success is not just a matter of hard working or even just being educated, it is the ability to do things differently even if it means breaking the traditional way of doing things.

Another renowned rulebreaker is Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men. While everyone else says education is a path to success, it should be known that billionaire Bill Gates catapulted himself to the top despite being a college dropout.

As a rule breaker, instead of completing his education at Harvard University, Bill Gates took a huge a risk and ventured into a little business called ‘Microsoft’ which he co-founded with his classmate, Paul Allen. What pissed him off in his business was the opensource practices of software development and departing from the traditional way of doing things, he championed a closed-source ethic. By breaking the rules of the game of software development, Bill Gates established the software industry as it is known today.

Even Donald Trump – touted as the very definition of the American success story in business, real estate and entertainment – is another rule breaker.

According to Business Pundit, among Trump’s rules for success, you will not find the words, “humility,” “generosity,” “sympathy,” or “compassion.”

A probe into the lives of the country’s prominent entrepreneurs such as Thomson Mpinganjira, Jimmy Koreia Mpatsa, Hitesh Anadkat, Matthews Kondowe, Mike Mlombwa, Abdul Rashid, Napoleon Dzombe and many other leading local entrepreneurs will tell the same story of being rule breakers.

It is important to explain that rule breaking does not necessarily mean breaking the laws but rather abandoning the traditional way of doing things by devising new strategies to propel oneself or an organisation to new heights. While innovation is key at conception level, rule breaking is what actualises the innovation or the new paradigm at implementation level.

Without pursuing rule-breaking principle, some innovations flop miserably. Some companies and organisations have very colourful and welltailored strategies but their performance is dismal. The problem is implementation.

As is observed by many experts robust strategy implementation is the key differentiator between successful companies and the rest of the pack.

Malawi needs rule breakers who can invest in an industry by offering new goods and services whose benefits cannot be ignored. Rule breaking is part of risk taking, which is a critical element of leadership.

According to Seth Godin; “playing it safe and not taking a risk is probably the most dangerous thing you could do in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business environment”.

Let’s turn ourselves into rule breakers. If we are in our comfort zones, Leo F. Buscaglia has a word for us.

“The person, who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing.

He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.”

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