In this edition charity leader Angela McConville and entrepreneur Jeff D. offer some insight on disruption, innovation and breaking conventions. PLUS: tabloid journalist Susie Boniface gives a whistlestop tour of much misunderstood skills of improvising, problem-solving, and questioning every rule you come across.

A line drawing of a person kicking through a glass barrier

There are rules in place to keep us safe.

And there are rules in place to keep us controlled.

And every business worth its weight, will follow and add to, the first lot – whilst pushing the second lot to the very limit.

There is no change, no innovation, without the ability to challenge the status quo.

But there is an art and a science to bending and breaking rules that takes a lot of skill and deep understanding of the consequences.

Don’t confuse rules with laws. Most rules aren’t rules at all – but conventions, customs and habits that have been formed over time. Dress codes and charters can end up in homogeneity. ‘Ways of thinking’ can be be the enemy of the future, and condemn an organisation to slowly sink into the past.

Don’t willfully break every rule. Some are fantastic. Guidelines and frameworks can give much needed structure and efficiency. But always ask – who set these rules, and what do I owe them?

Recommended MUST READS on breaking rules – from friends of always possible:

Angela McConville - "disruption is great - if you manage it"

The CEO of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is ANGELA McCONVILLE, and she says that in the charity sector, disruption – and challenges to the rules – should be embraced. But you need to know what to do with it…

The scale of what we need to do is immense.

If you look at maternity services alone, never mind the wider state of public health services, the task is huge. It would be absolutely the wrong strategy for us to try and double-down and be insular about that, actually we need to forge many alliances and many collaborative partnerships.

An example of that is our campaigning space, the NCT has a really proud heritage in terms of like campaigning for women’s health and reproductive rights.

And I also think that that’s where there’s so much energy to be found. Yes, we can work in many interesting ways when the NHS comes to us and asks us to help relieve pressure points. Can we take on service delivery so that they can free up professionals to workin m more acute service areas? Of course, and so we can be a friend and partner and service provider in those kinds of structures.

BUT we can also do immensely creative work with tech innovators and with entrepreneurs.

We’re doing a piece of work at the moment, reimagining the future of our infant feeding helpline. It is 21 years old this year. It is a very traditional phone helpline on a legacy phone system. But we’ve just appointed an innovation firm to work with us, to be really bold about reimagining what the future of this service could look like.

Can it be omni channel? And can it be in partnership? What happens when we put no restraints on it? It’s wonderful to bring in people to work with us who bring design innovation, design strategy, who bring sort of commercial expertise to really look creatively at what the sustainability of some of these services can be.

Because that’s a very real dilemma for charities.

It’s a competitive landscape for charities in terms of income. So asking that question at the outset, as part of an innovation blend, it’s a highly collaborative future for us. I feel like the sort of hallmarks of traditional sort of charity success in terms of like, the size and the turnover, and the numbers, I feel like, that’s not those are not the measures anymore. Actually, how allied you are, how collaborative you are – I feel like those are becoming more important.

I think about the genesis of NCT, and it was a disruptive force. It was an organising force. It was a hyper local community-organising movement that was asking some pretty bold questions. And sometimes it feels important to me to be able to invoke that kind of energy and saying we’ve got us continue to be sort of restless without disruption.

I think disruption is a good a good thing. Well governed disruption.

Jeff Dewing "Whatever you're told - do the opposite"

JEFF DEWING is a successful entrepreneur in the world of facilities management, and his CloudFM empire. But when planning his book and podcast about business, he realised that he’d been breaking and re-writing the rules without even noticing…

When writing my book, I realised that everything I’ve done that has been successful is where I’ve done the complete opposite to what most people would have done (or would have expected to do).

And the basis of all of that was to have no fear, be honest, have integrity, have humility, and realise that it’s all about the people around you.

You have to travel a long way to find a bad person. You don’t have to travel very far to find a good person in a bad environment. That’s essentially the philosophy that I’ve adopted subconsciously. And then the book has helped me elevate it – to understand it.

There’ll be lots of people and companies out there that say that: “We innovate! We’re innovators!”

And again, we’re back to buzzwords.

Some certainly try but others will always be constrained because of command and control and budget restrictions or so and so on.

From my perspective, we’re back to people. It’s only ever about people.

When people say to me that the client’s got a problem with XYZ, and they’re very upset that these things keep happening. “What if we employ somebody else to answer the phones as well?”

You go, okay, well, we how do we do something different? Why don’t we learn how to stop the phone ringing at all? How about we think about solving the problem that lead to somebody having the need to pick up the phone and ring in the first place?

What if you had a magic wand? What would you do to solve that problem?

Leaders need to guide people through debate and collaboration, because one person can’t have all the answers. You need a broad, full process that says nothing is off the table – there is genuinely no such thing as a bad idea or a bad statement, or a bad comment.

How do we solve that problem without conventional thinking?

Leaders have got to create the freedom and the safety for people to be able to make those contributions. And some of the biggest innovators we’ve had at CloudFM have come from engineers that are on the road. They think that their place in the world is to drive and fix things, yet we bring them into the office for a week. And they come and sit in our board meetings and develop experience and bandwidth of what else goes on apart from just driving around the van.

Some of our biggest ideas have come from those engineers sitting in a boardroom saying something that we might usually dismiss as a ridiculous idea is actually a genius idea – and, when implemented, has material impact. Creativity is in everybody, when you give freedom to create. And people don’t then fear being frowned upon, because they were worried that something was a bad statement or a bad idea or a bad comment.

Susie Boniface on not taking no for an answer

The self-titled Fleet Street Fox, SUSIE BONIFACE, is a seasoned journalist who knows exactly what you need to do to get to the truth – especially when people misuse the rule book to try and stop you

The fundamental skill of journalism is an unwillingness to be told something and just to simply agree with it.

But to ask why? But what? But when? How did they? Are you sure?

And you’ve got to have the ability to just question and niggle and not be satisfied. You have got to be the kind of person who picks the scabs. And if you see a little bit of wallpaper that’s loose, you can’t help but pull it. You’ve got to be that kind of person.

You’ve got to be tough enough to walk up to someone’s front step and bang on the door and know you’re going to ruin their Sunday afternoon. And to know there’s a good reason that you’re doing that. And actually to be human enough to do that, and appreciate that you’re ruining their Sunday, and to tell them that you know that – but you got to do what you got to do.

Brass neck. Compassion. Sensitivity. Absolute determination.

And a really strong morality radar.

Even if journalists are not moral people themselves, you’ve got to have a radar for when someone else is doing something wrong, you got to sniff it out somehow.

If you’re abroad somewhere, you have to be able to fix a satellite phone. You gotta be able to find the satellite and figure out what’s wrong with it and fix it. You have to be able to not just fire up your computer and send an email, but maybe repair your computer to some extent. Or find the right wire and have the right cables and the right adapters and chargers and stuff like this.

And you have to be able to do a Facebook live broadcast and podcasts to record yourself, to write and interview and to commentate and to keep opinion, as well as reporting, and so on, in lots of different media.

And you have to do that even if you’re working for a newspaper. Even if you’re working for a television program, they’ll ask you to write a blog. It used to be that TV reporters were very good at saying stuff and finding the right picture and they never actually really bothered about the words, but that’s different now.

And the same with reporters – they used to just worry about the words and think that snappers could sort the rest of it out. But now you’re going to shoot your own video, you’ve got to tape it all, you’ve got to do this, that and the other. So there are more technical things required.

But I am sure that when we moved from quill pens and parchment to typewriters, there were similar complaints. As there were when I was younger and in a newsroom and someone said “you need to come along and learn how the internet works”. But we all went pissed off and went to the pub.

We probably should have paid more attention a bit sooner.

The always possible team provide award-winning workshops and strategy sessions for ambitious teams. We help businesses, charities and public services to make decisions about who they are, who they want to speak to, build influence and cut through the noise.

In each of these Insights newsletters on LinkedIn, we’ll draw on expertise from our team as well as very special guests from The Possibility Club podcast – who have practical suggestions and ideas on what could unstick a challenge in your work.

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