Rule-Breaking in the Workplace

I have a real appreciation for people who break rules, especially those who do it well.

The Form

In everything from art to business, there is a traditional form that many believe you must understand and master before you can be successful. For example, I’ve been reading The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne and he makes the same case for writing; that even if you think the traditional form of a novel sucks and you hate almost everything about it, you still need to understand the form (and therefore the expectations of the audience) in order to break the rules well and create something innovative and disruptive.

As someone regularly frustrated with predictable rules and social norms, I recognize this as an approach I’ve applied to most aspects of my life. I’m quiet. I observe and I play by the rules — or appear to — but only long enough to fully understand what rules don’t work and how it can be done better.

Breaking the rules, thoughtfully and purposefully, is exactly what we’re doing where I work @TechArtista. And it’s an approach that makes coworking spaces, in general, so successful.

Out with the Old

We all know what traditional forms of work look like. For some of us, we’ve spent years living that inefficient and life-sucking work day in a corporate or otherwise traditional office setting. For those more fortunate, we may not have lived it ourselves but have watched those around us follow these paved paths in professional industries. It may have taken its form from watching parents complain about their jobs for years on end; or seeing our friends change their innovative ideologies upon entering the corporate world; or even agonizing over the boredom and ridiculousness of office life through television shows like The Office.

What makes coworking spaces work is that we know the rules and social norms of a traditional business/office environment. In other words, we know the form. And because we know the form, we know exactly which rules we can throw out the window.

Each coworking space has their own idea about which rules deserve to go in the trash. Here in St. Louis, at TechArtista, we did away with a lot of the rules and norms we found counter-intuitive, including the creativity-sucking cubicles and bland office aesthetics.

We replaced them with a variety of spaces, some open and some cozy, where you can work surrounded by beautiful local art, plants, and people. The change in space, coupled with the expectation of casual comfort, allows people to be themselves and work how they work best. You can stand. You can sit. You can lay on a couch. You can hang on the patio. You can play ping-pong. You can work out in the gym. You can do yoga. You can get a massage. You can chill with your dog… The options are limitless.

The Game Changer

What we’ve found, and what others are finding in non-traditional workspaces all over the world, is that when you create a space where people are comfortable to be themselves, things happen.

First, people take notice of what other people in the space are doing. They get curious, ask questions, check out portfolios and websites, and expand their understanding of what people do regardless of job title. This is usually closely followed by stepping out into new projects and collaborating with new people, which leads to a phase of personal growth where they push themselves outside their comfort zone. And most importantly, it all results in the formation of a strong community. The people you work around everyday become like family; and like family, they support you but also push you to be your best.

Change is intimidating, but it’s necessary. Take a look at the traditional form in your industry and ask yourself:

“What are the rules you want to break?”