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Sometimes You Need to Break the Rules. Here’s Why.

Years ago, I built a website that sold code samples. All the samples were free if you knew where to find them. The licenses of the code made it legal to sell them. But if you asked the developers they might have been pissed.

The product failed in part because I was afraid of it succeeding. I felt like I was breaking the rules by running it. At the same time, there was competition, and they didn’t care about my rules. In the end, they were successful, and my site went away.

The problem with taking the moral high ground is that you give other people an advantage. Reason being, they don’t care about your rules so they don’t have to follow them. This might seem like a strange way of looking at this problem, but it is the way things tend to work.

How Did You Get Here

From an early age, you are taught that you should do the right thing and be good people. For the most part, this works out well and helps us avoid unnecessary conflict and jail.

But there are times when it works against you. The worst times are when you miss out or lose because you aren’t willing to break rules that someone else is.

Put another way, when you won’t break the rules you give anyone who will an advantage over you. So anyone who doesn’t worry about your rules always has an easy way to get ahead of you.

Also, sometimes we try to do the right thing because we ‘think’ it is the right thing. In reality, most of the time it doesn’t make much of a difference. At times rules don’t exist for a reason, they are a formality rather than protection.

What You Should Do

But how do we deal with these situations? The hard part is knowing when it is ok to break a rule. For people who don’t care, this isn’t an issue, but you don’t want to be like them. It is better to be selective about the rules you break.

The goal is to see the opportunities where it is alright to ignore the rules. In my example, if I wasn’t worried about what other developers thought, I may have made more money.

The best guide would be, don’t hurt too many people along the way. You shouldn’t strive to always break the rules, you’ll end up in jail. But know there are times when it is the best approach.

The better way to look at this is to see rules as fuzzy. In general, the rules are less clear than you’ve been told. At the same time, if you still think you must always do the right thing, you need to be ok with losing because of it.

Don’t let people cheat you out of opportunities. Sometimes you must fight fire with fire. But remember, be careful not to wrong people for no reason.


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