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Why it pays to break the rules

Posted in the following categories: Creativity, Personal Development

If my calculations are correct, when the car hits 88 miles an hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.

This, of course, is one of the many memorable one-liners from Back to the Future, one of my all-time favorite movies (One of our dogs is named Einstein, inspired by Doc Brown’s dog in the movie).

Here’s what I love most about the movie: It breaks more rules than it follows.

Rule #1. Don’t overload the audience with information; otherwise, you’ll confuse and lose them.
In one of the initial scenes, Doc Brown drowns Marty with a ton of mumbo jumbo about time travel, while introducing an entirely new lexicon (Temporal displacement? Flux capacitor? 1.21 gigawatts of electricity? Huh?).

Rule #2. The protagonist must face setbacks, learn from them, and grow into a better version of himself.
In the movie, Marty rarely learns anything. Every time he’s called a chicken, he overreacts and gets himself into trouble.

Rule #3. There should be no risque story lines in a PG movie.
After Marty travels back in time to 1955, his own mother develops a crush on him and begins making serious sexual advances (making all parents squirm in their seats).

Rule #4. The characters in a movie should want to create change.
Yet Marty wants to keep things exactly as they are. When he’s in 1955, all Marty wants to do is to make sure his parents kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, since that’s the only way Marty will continue to exist.

This isn’t rule breaking for the sake of rule breaking—rebelling without a cause against the establishment. Rather, it’s an intentional bending of the rules, driven by a desire to move beyond the standard playbook and create a remarkable movie that people keep remarking about 35 years later.

Seinfeld is another great example of the same idea. When the show first went into production, the sitcom playbook was set in stone. A group of characters would run into problems, resolve those problems, learn something from the experience, and hug each other.

From the get-go, Seinfeld producers were clear on their mission. They would flip the script. There would be no hugging. There would be no learning. The characters on Seinfeld would draw laughs from constantly repeating their mistakes (just like Marty in Back to the Future) and overlooking their own faults. In case there was any confusion, the writers actually wore jackets that said No Hugging, No Learning.

These two masterpieces hold important lessons for us all. Day after day, year after year, we tell ourselves to play it safe, stick to the script, and color between the lines. We follow the conventional playbook, so we get conventional results.

Someone who colors between the lines is rarely memorable. The same goes for a movie that follows the standard rulebook or a television show that does exactly what the audience expects.

Remarkable happens when you bend the rules and push the boundaries.

Remarkable happens when you create an entirely new box, instead of simply trying to think outside the existing one.

Remarkable happens when you abandon the standard formulas, scripts, and playbooks—and instead write your own story.

What will it say?

P.S. If you’re interested in building a remarkable career, my wife Kathy is holding a free exclusive Masterclass on Thursday, October 1st at 11 am Pacific/2 pm Eastern for readers of the Weekly Contrarian.

In the masterclass, Kathy will teach you how to upgrade to a “pinch-me-now” career. As a coach, Kathy helps her clients go from a “great-on-paper” job that sucks their soul, to a meaningful career their future self with thank them for.

During the masterclass, Kathy will share:

  • The 5 pitfalls that set people up for failure in creating a meaningful career
  • The key to stop thinking about changing your career and start DOING it
  • The one fail-proof way to break through the inevitable fear of going down a new path
You can sign up for the free masterclass here.

To learn more about Kathy’s coaching, head over here.

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