As children we learned the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. In business, however, we see winners and losers and those that win don’t appear to play by the rules. Read articles on systemically poor treatment of workers by such commercial juggernauts as Walmart, Amazon, Enron, McDonald’s, and more. These companies received scathing press for treating the callous treatment of their employees, yet they remain potent and influential in the realm of commerce.

So it seems that nice guys (or gals) finish last.

CBS concurs. In their article “Want to Be Successful? Don’t Play by the Rules,” the subjectivity of societal rules affects how we see others and ourselves. However, self-limiting rules–those which we impose upon ourselves–says the article have unintended consequences. Such rules, opines the writer, are more about trying to exert control over one’s world; they don’t concern ethics, morals, or conviction. Breaking those self-imposed rules frees one to achieve success.

Beyond those self-limiting constraints we impose upon ourselves, how often do we fail to recognize that the perceived rules and assumptions by which we live are more subjective than we thought? An article on thinkbusinessgrowth.com relates the switching on of the proverbial light bulb in a graduate classroom experiment. The result? Students discovered that the rules by which billionaires play are flexible. Such rules may impose the same limitations as self-imposed rules, such as not asking for assistance unless the problem is serious and that independence is the truest sign of strength.

Liberarianism.org points to examples in sports where the common abrogation of rules occurs to prevent easy scores by opposing teams, to extend games, or to reduce the margin of winning by opposing teams. Like sports, many consider business a game with rules that govern transactions and guide ethical behavior. Deliberately unfair play gives undue advantage; however, those who use the rules to their best advantage without breaking them, says the author, are the most successful.

We can’t escape the morality of rules, legal, societal, or self-imposed. Marketing entrepreneur Tori Kyes observes that “if you read anyone who’s ever been successful’s memoir, you’ll find two common denominators: 1. They failed, at some point in their life. Probably a lot. 2. They didn’t do it the way everyone else did.” Kyes follows that statement with the example of a friend whose plan to launch a product contained three major flaws. The first, that person didn’t believe in his project unless someone else believed in it enough to dedicate a significant chunk of time, expertise, and effort into marketing it. The second, reliance upon an expert dumps one’s fate into the hands of others who may not have a vested interest in one’s success. The third, this friend held the conviction that effective marketing followed the One True Way, when, says Kyes, “you can do it any damn way you please.”

Doing it “any damn way you please” doesn’t mean shooting from the hip and taking a scattershot approach. It means analyzing what needs to be done and then figuring out the best way for your business to accomplish that within the available budget. That means–you guessed it–developing a process for implementation. That process should guide the effort and be adjusted as setbacks occur (and they will) and as successes follow through. It means taking calculated risks and investing cold hard cash in the success of your business.

So, what are the rules?

  1. Act from passion. If you’re not passionate about your business, then no one else will be either.
  2. Be informed. Information reduces risk and guides success.
  3. Let expert guidance guide. You’re not riding a train that’s stuck to the rails; more than one path will take you to your destination; but, know that destination so you head in the right direction.