We all have a choice. We can choose to play the game or we can choose to change the game. Ostensibly, each has a fifty percent chance of being selected. In a room with one hundred people, half could choose to pursue success by following the rules, doing the right thing, and playing the game better than the competition. And, the other fifty could ignore conventional wisdom, and break the rules. They could reinvent the game. Why when presented with two equal choices, do people overwhelming choose the road most traveled?
Safety in Numbers
Like so many of the things we do without knowing why, our tendency to opt for the tried-and-true is likely a byproduct of evolution. We are hard wired for it. If you stay with the pack, you survive. If you stray, off the beaten path, alone, you get crushed by a woolly mammoth and you die. For almost 200,000 years humans have focused on the “right way” to do it. In present day “it” includes making partner, landing clients, pitching businesses, pleasing the higher-ups, managing our direct reports, getting a promotion, and changing careers.
The Leopard Who Changed His Spots
…was Steve Jobs. Before the iMac we lived in a world where PC was king. So much so that the very word “computer” essentially was synonymous with PC. There was no viable alternative. Back then, if you were a computer manufacturer, your option was to build a better, faster, cheaper, more popular, better looking, smaller…PC. That is, until Steve Jobs. He built a Mac. Boy, oh boy, did he change the game.
Playing within the paradigm imposed upon you is the professional equivalent of packing. Maybe if you fold the clothes smaller, layer them just so, and place them in different compartments they will fit into the bag. Or maybe – it’s time for a new suitcase and even new clothes.
What’s the Worst that Can Happen?
There was a time when saying the world was round was blasphemy and got you executed. Back then, it made good sense to stay quiet. If you did not play the game, you were dead. Thankfully we are no longer living in 1600. It is pretty safe to shake things up a little.
You want a promotion? Reject the current openings. Design a position custom made for you. You want to try a case? Stop waiting for your firm to hand you one, bring in a matter ripe for litigation. You want your department to run better? Stop looking to company policy. Implement that untested technique you know in your gut will work.
You want to revolutionize the game? Find one thing that really scares the pants off of you and do it today. Pick something unconventional, unpopular and out of character and do it tomorrow.
You feel more comfortable playing the game? Whatever you do, avoid the lemmings.