Blog | Entrepreneurship

Rule Breakers: The Difference Between Corporate and Entrepreneurial Misfits

How companies co-opt creativity and stifle rule-breakers—and what you should do about it.

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As a young man, I knew that school was not for me. It’s not that I didn’t like to learn. It was that I didn’t like to learn the way they taught at school. Book knowledge to me was boring. I much preferred to do things and learn from my mistakes and successes.

Because of this, I did not do well in school. I was also labeled as a misfit—a rule breaker—much to my father’s dismay. He was, after all, the superintendent of the Hawaii school system.

Poor dad said, “Follow the rules!”

To my father, playing by the rules meant following the old rules of money. The path to success was to get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job with a high salary, save money, buy a house, and invest in a portfolio of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds for retirement.

Unfortunately, none of these “good” things did him any good. He always struggled financially, and during his last days, he lamented that he didn’t have much to leave us kids. I call my natural father my poor dad not because he was a bad father. In fact, he was the most loving and kind man I could ask for. Rather, I call him my poor dad because he did not know how money worked and regretted his financial position his whole life. He played by the rules, and they did not serve him well.

Rich dad said, “Break the rules!”

My best friend’s dad was my rich dad. He did not have the same rules my poor dad did. Rather, he saw the world in a much different way.

Where my poor dad would say, “We can’t afford that,” my rich dad would ask, “How can I afford that?”

Where my poor dad would say, “You must save for retirement,” my rich dad would say, “Savers are losers.”

Where my poor dad would say, “Get a secure and high paying job,” my rich dad would say, “Being an employee is the riskiest thing you can do.”

You name any conventional rule of money and life, and my poor dad probably had a contrarian view. “When the rules don’t work, you need to break them,” rich dad said. He was at his core a rule breaker and a misfit. And he was immensely successful.

My best friend Mike and I followed in my rich dad’s footsteps. Whether it was using return copies of comic books to make money through a lending library, or giving up lucrative job offers to take a low paying job that taught sales skills, our lives were and are defined by breaking the conventional rules.

The success of rule breakers and misfits

Turns out a bent towards rule breaking contributes to success. A 2017 study by professors from UC Berkeley and London School of Economics confirms, rule breakers are more likely to grow up to be entrepreneurs.

Here’s the tragedy, a big percentage of our kids are rule breakers at heart, and many of them have entrepreneurial dreams. Here are some statistics from my book Why “A” Students Work for “C” Students.

  • 44% of young people want to be entrepreneurs

  • 46% aim to set up their business within the next two years

  • 43% of students grades 5 through 12 want to be entrepreneurs

In other words, young Americans want to be entrepreneurs. They want to start companies that provide a high quality of life while also providing innovation and employment. The only problem is that our school system specializes in training our kids to be employees.

And now, for those misfits who make it through the school system with their rule-breaking bent intact, corporations are finding ways to capitalize on it.

The rise of the corporate misfit

A while back, I came across an article with the title, “The best ideas come from misfits.” Being what many would call a misfit, it piqued my interest immediately. As I read it, I realized that it’s author and I had a different view of what constitutes a misfit, and what their role in the world should be.

According to the author, Lionel Mohri, who at the time was VP of Innovation Practices and is now the Chief Storytelling and Experience Officer at Intuit, a company with a $188 billion market cap, a misfit is someone who thinks differently within an organization.

Mohri starts his conversation around misfits by sharing some of his own experiences. He wanted to solve problems and bounced around from career to career trying to find a place where he could fit in. He finally ended up in design. He writes, “That career, which I entered as a non-designer, taught me that innovation has no predefined shape or form. Innovation does not require fitting a certain job requirement or having a specific degree in innovation. And often, it’s a collection of different backgrounds that drives the most innovative solutions.”

It is these people who come from different backgrounds that end up working together to drive “innovative solutions” that he deems misfits.

“From this perspective, ‘misfits’ are valuable to companies,” writes Mohri. “They don’t quite fit into a specific team. They’re always challenging why the company does what it does. They’re rebellious. They’re independent. They can seem counterproductive to everything that a manager needs to achieve—to maintain order. But those are the people that are going to change the game on how your company innovates.”

He goes on to share how a tricky problem at Intuit was solved by encouraging the misfit mindset among his team. “I needed one of my employees to come out of her shell of being ‘Corporate,’ and tap into her creative side that she reserves for after work. The misfit side.”

What did Intuit get from this misfit? “The result was not only a sketch, but a beautifully illustrated children’s book that was a hit within our organization and strategically defined the next three years of our product roadmap in care. This was a far cry from the typical fifty-slide deck that took hours to read.”

The entrepreneurial misfit is a different beast

To me, however, rule breakers and misfits have a completely different mindset than employees. Unfortunately, most experiences both in the educational and work world are geared to squash the entrepreneurial spirit and create conformity.

To me the successful people in the world are the misfits that follow their dreams of entrepreneurship, forgoing the “security” of a high-paying job to build something entirely of their own.

The qualities of a misfit are the same between Mohri and myself. We both appreciate their ability to think differently and create new solutions to hard problems. But the difference is that I celebrate misfits that are entrepreneurs and he celebrates misfits that are employees.

I appreciate the fact that corporations are opening up more to letting their employees exercise creativity on the job, but from my perspective, the realities of the employee mindset and world will always stifle even the most mischievous of misfits.

The employee mindset is one of security. The whole reason for having a job is to have a steady paycheck. If any of those corporate misfits sniff that their paycheck is in jeopardy, you’ll see that innovation retreat to the safety of status quo.

The entrepreneurial mindset is one that by definition takes risk and is comfortable with it. They’ve forgone the steady paycheck to solve problems and by doing so free themselves up to their full misfit potential.

Corporations are co-opting rule-breakers and misfits

In reality, calling your employees misfits is just a motivation tactic by corporations to get what they’ve always wanted from employees—to take your best ideas and profit from them. There’s nothing wrong with this, but you should know what you’re signing up for—and if you’re a true misfit, what you can get out of it.

When I was a young man, I worked for Xerox as a salesman. I knew already that I didn’t want to be an employee. I wanted to start my own financial education company. In fact, I had already turned down high-paying jobs in both the shipping and the airline industries. So, why did I take the job?

I was following an important bit of advice from my rich dad, “Work to learn, not to earn.” I knew that starting my own company would require developing great sales skills. So, I used Xerox to learn them. In turn, I went from the worst salesperson to the best in my tenure there. They got to enjoy that success for a short time, and I got the skills I was looking for.

Let’s teach our kids what true misfits and rule-breakers are and can do

There is a tremendous difference between the skill sets of an entrepreneur and of an employee. Unfortunately, because the skill sets required to be an entrepreneur are not taught in our schools, many of our kids will never realize their dream to start their own business.

Many people dream of becoming entrepreneurs, but few will take the leap of faith. Why? The lack of financial education in our schools. Without financial education, most employees are terrified of losing their job, not having a steady paycheck, or simply failing—and most kids have no idea where to start except by getting a good job, and then they’re trapped.

Without financial education, our kid’s dreams will die.

Every kid has a genius

Every child has a genius. Unfortunately, their genius may not be recognized by the educational system. It may even be crushed.

Thomas Edison, one of the great geniuses of modern times, was labeled “addled”—mixed up or confused—by his first teacher. He never finished school and instead went on to found General Electric.

Albert Einstein also failed to impress his teachers. They called him lazy, sloppy, and insubordinate. He proved them wrong.

The point is that the environment of our school system is not always a good one for the type of genius many kids have. In fact, it can be constricting.

All parents have met the genius in their child. Most parents know that a child’s true genius comes through most clearly in the things that the child dreams about—the ideas and things that delight, fascinate, and challenge them—and yes, in the rules that they break.

Nurture the rule-breaking, entrepreneurial spirit

Traditionally, we’ve left it to the school system to develop and nurture our children’s genius. Today, that won’t work.

Because our kid’s dream of being entrepreneurs, they’ll face a system in school that is bent on breaking that dream, teaching them to follow conventional rules for success, replacing their dreams with the old American dream of getting a good job.

And if they do make it out of the school system with a rule-breaking, misfit spirit still, corporations will simply exploit it for their own ends.

Because of this, it’s up to parents to nurture and cultivate their children’s dreams—and to direct the rule-breaking tendency from negative actions to positive challenges to the status quo. It’s up to parents to provided a solid financial education. And to stoke the fires of entrepreneurship.

Be a true misfit and rule breaker

Now, consider this employee at Intuit who created a beautiful illustrated children’s book that drove their business roadmap for the next three years. If her work can do that for Intuit, imagine what it could do for herself.

The true misfit move would be to find a way to do her illustration work for a living, creating products of her own that support her and her dreams, rather than a three-year roadmap for a $44.3 billion corporation.

I hope she does it. I hope you do, too. And I really hope your kids do.

Original publish date: April 03, 2018

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