Saturday, October 14, 2006

Break the Rules by Edwin C. Ebreo: Speech # 10

Rules are important; they bring order to this world; they help keep us sane and from killing each other. People go to great lengths to impose the rules. They write laws, books and guidelines. People protect them. They preach, warn, and punish just to ensure compliance. When we were children, our parents made the choice clear, follow the rules or feel the stick. Schools taught us to memorize the right answer and gave us 6,975 tests and quizzes to make sure we know them. At work, we are taught how to do things and then they expect us to follow their lead. They don’t say “this has always been how we do things; it’s up to you to decide how you want to do it”. No! It’s their way or the highway!

There is however a good deal of contradiction between following rules and greatness. Great people didn’t become what they are by following rules, they make their own even if they pay a high price for it. Galileo was deemed crazy and a heretic, Columbus was ridiculed, Bill Gates, well, Bill Gates became a billionaire. These men of history proved that some rules are meant to be broken and that for most of them it pays to break them. Some men broke some rules to make this world better. I would forever be indebted to the person who broke the rules about beach attires and invented the bikini… but not as much as the man who made earth-bound human beings fly via the airplane.

Wait; don’t go about breaking rules yet. You must learn to differentiate breaking rules that lead you to the bank from the ones that deservingly lead you to prison. There are also rules for breaking rules you know and here they are:

Believe that there are many correct answers – From elementary school to college, we’ve been taught that 1 + 1 = 2, My kindergarten teacher taught me to color the sky blue and the grass green when I draw. I heard of one who had a different answer. He colored his sky violet and the grass gray. When he was  told  it's wrong, he asked “why, that’s how I see the sky during sunset”. There are many correct answers, and sometimes, the second, third or fourth correct answer is the one that breaks the rule big time! Emilie Chartier said “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one we have.” Next time you are challenged by a problem, ask yourself questions that require plural answers, what are the solutions rather than what is the solution.

Know that it does not make sense to say that it does not make sense – People like to reject new ideas like a body rejecting a strange protein. I think it was One of the Warner Brothers who said “who wants to hear actors talk?” during the time of silent movies. We've been fond of saying “it does not make sense’ when we hear ideas that are out of whack or seemingly out of this world. I wonder how many of them were heard by Einstein, or Edison or the guy who invented golf.

Be ready to challenge the rules - Do you know why the keyboard in your computer is arranged that way? That’s because when the type writer was invented, the inventor got complaints that the type sets were getting stuck when they type fast. In order to prevent the typist from typing fast, they put the commonly used vowels in such a way that the weak fingers will be used to hit them. Does that reason apply today now that we are using computers? You bet not! That’s why somebody invented the devorajk system, I bet some of you don’t know that. So next time you see some rules, ask are these rules still applicable? Does it still serve its purpose? If not, break it.

Be foolish – Especially when smart means being conventional and conforming to the accepted norms. “Don’t be foolish” is what Economic and Business Experts said when Henry Sy planned to build the SM city in the middle of nowhere at a time of great economic turmoil following Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. Look how his business is now! If that’s what you call foolish, I hope we can make similar foolish decisions.
Don’t let failure stop you from trying – What makes great people different from ordinary mortals is not the amount of success that they've achieved but the amount of times they try after each failure. Edison counted 1001 wrong ways to make a light bulb before he can find the best solution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, every piece of innovation in this world is a deviation from the norm. Without rule breaking we’d still be in caves or worse, we could have been extinct. Occasional rule-breaking therefore is essential to survival. My father gave me a great advice about rules when I was in high school. He told me rules are relative truths, they must change overtime. Books are references, not rules to be followed. You don’t live your life because books tell you so. You can choose to disagree, even make your own rules for as long as you make sure that you don’t hurt people. He also said that you cannot be in the business of breaking rules if you keep on saying it cannot be done because those words have the tendency to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Before I end, I must repeat that rules are important. They are boxes that keep things in proper order. But sometimes we need to go out of those boxes in order to create new orders. Go out of oft-trodden path and create new paths. I read from somewhere that one cannot be better without changing the way one does things, so change the way we do things we must! In this business of rule breaking, the only limit is your imagination, so use your imagination to find all the right answers in making this world a better one to live in.

Now go break some rules.

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