If you are in a rebellious, rule-breaking mood but still can’t find a rule to break that will solve your problem, try one of the following. These rules often block good solutions. Use one of the four rule- breaking techniques to find a way—any way—to break these rules.

It’s Impossible

“Impossible only means that you haven’t found the solution yet.” UNKNOWN

No one tries to solve impossible problems—they are impossible. The obstacles are too great to even consider a solution. The “it’s impossible so don’t even try” rule is always a good one to break, because even impossible problems have been solved.

The Nazi occupation of Poland was horrific. Twenty percent of the Polish people died in forced labor, of hunger, or from fighting. Resistance was impossible. Even the feeblest opposition brought devastating, overwhelming reprisals.

Drs. Eugene Lazowski and Stanislaw Matulewicz decided to resist anyway, and their solution was brilliant. They knew that the Germans were terrified of a typhus outbreak. So they injected dead typhus bacteria into various patients, then sent blood samples to the German authorities. The blood tested positive for typhus. The Germans conducted more tests, and most were also positive.

The occupation authorities quarantined the area. The people were not deported for slave labor and German troops stayed away. Drs. Lazowski and Matulewicz spared their neighbors the worst of World War II because even impossible problems have solutions. Make “it’s impossible” the first rule you break. Create an opposite rule that your problem will be solved.


“That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed..” ALGERNON SYDNEY

Regulations usually start with good intentions. But they cannot anticipate all future contingencies, so regulations are frequently obstacles to solutions. Einstein faced some insurmountable regulations. He wanted to renounce his German citizenship, but there was no such thing as a stateless person. It just wasn’t allowed. He became stateless anyway. He wanted to attend a prestigious scientific university, although he had dropped out of gymnasium, the equivalent of modern-day high school. Gymnasium graduation was essential for acceptance to the highly competitive program. He found a way to be admitted to the university anyway. Regulations can certainly make your solution more difficult, but they can still be broken. If there is a regulation in the way of your solution, ignore it.

Not Enough _______________

“Money often costs too much.”


Many problems seem impossible because there are not enough resources. There is almost never enough money to do anything right, except useless projects that, by definition, always have more than enough resources committed to them. There are never enough people; there is never enough time. But important things continue to be accomplished. Cities are built, cures are found, and children receive a great education. It is a tragedy when important ideas are not acted on because there wasn’t enough of something.

The lack of adequate resources is a real problem. Not just because of the lack, but also because the mind uses inadequate resources as an excuse to stop thinking about solutions. As soon as you believe that there isn’t enough, you stop trying to find a solution. To solve an insoluble problem where the resources are inadequate, attack the rule that you can’t succeed without them.

One way to attack your lack of resources is to imagine that you had unlimited resources (create an opposite rule). Decide how you would solve your problem if money (or people or knowledge) were no object. List whom you would call, what you would ask for, and what you would do. Every time an obstacle is identified, write a check or assign a body. Then move on to the next obstacle.

Perhaps your boss has assigned you to develop and run a new advertising campaign, but only has given you enough money for the first ad and no money for development. If money were no obstacle, you would put someone to work on the project. So you interview several advertising firms, including some hungry new ones that might like to get their foot in the door.

If you find one that will work for free, you are off to a great start. If not, return to your boss with the best proposal and ask for the money. Or ask more firms for free development work. And keep asking until the ad campaign is created. Then run the only advertisement you have money for, and ask for more money when it is a success.

Seeking solutions as though resources are not an object builds your mental momentum. Your mind becomes accustomed to iden- tifying and disposing of problems. Your internal obstacles to a solu- tion evaporate as you learn to smash through them when they arise.

Just starting a project is often enough to create the intermediate solutions needed to complete it. I once toured Vienna with a couple on their second year of a three-year world tour. They started with only enough money for a plane ticket from New Zealand to San Francisco. But that first step was enough. They had started. They then paid for cars, fares, tours, fun, and musical instruments by occasionally performing or wielding a shovel. They always found a way. They even had a baby, who greatly increased their revenue from street concerts. They were having a wonderful time on a trip that many wealthy people think they can’t afford.

Money-is-no-object thinking also can help generate a more prac- tical solution. After you have sketched out a money-is-no-object solution, determine how much each action would cost. Then ask:

Can I afford the solution?
Who could afford the solution?
What would motivate them to pay the bill? Would it be worth the price?
What portions of the solution can I afford?
Are there any actions I can substitute that I can afford?

Your problem is easier to solve with a plan. Plans come before resources like ideas precede action. Use this as the basis of a plan to win the resources that you need.

The Shortest Distance Doesn’t Work

“The ultimate measurement is effectiveness, not efficiency.” JACK J. PHILLIPS

Problems are often considered insoluble because the direct, obvious route to a solution is impractical. The assumption is that if the direct route doesn’t work, indirect routes won’t work either. They must be worse.

Is the shortest distance between two points a straight line? Well, consider FedEx. They found that fastest way to move parcels between two points was to fly them all to the same place for sorting and then fly them to their final destination. A package destined for a nearby city traveled thousands of miles, but the detour allowed numerous other procedures to be streamlined. The solution focused on the distribution facility rather than the long distances between facilities.

Make a list of all the indirect ways you could approach your problem. To help yourself warm up to the problem, make your first detour as circuitous and bizarre as possible.

It’s Been Tried Before

“Curiosity is a delicate little plant which, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.” ALBERT EINSTEIN

Most good ideas must be tried several times before someone final- ly finds a way to make them work. Mistakes and false starts are almost a precondition of success. But we forget this. Instead we embrace the notion that something that has failed once cannot be made to work.

If the “it’s been tried before” rule were scrupulously fol- lowed, we would be without airplanes, democracy, and convert- ibles. Retrying a failed idea is a good example of the “Violate the Rule” or the “Circumvent the Rule” rule-breaking strategies. A second try may succeed because circumstances have changed or because you avoid repeating the part of the previous effort that caused its failure.

George Kinney’s friends probably thought he was crazy when he scraped together every dollar he could find to purchase the inventory of his former failed employer. If Kinney’s old boss had

gone bankrupt with those shoes, then surely Kinney would too. But Kinney learned from his boss’s mistakes and grew the business, which he renamed Kinney Shoes, into a fortune.

So what if an idea has failed before? Things are different now. There are new players. You can learn from earlier mistakes. There is a better chance you can make it work this time.


“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”


You have to break the rules to solve tough problems. Be bold. Be creative. Be unconventional. Create solutions that assume you can break rules. Breaking rules requires attitude and creativity. If you have the attitude that you can and must break a limiting rule, then unleash your creativity on it. Break your rules, and record all the seeds of possible solutions that come from your violations. The next step in Einstein Thinking is to grow those seeds into real solutions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *