Break the Rules – Part 4

By Reg Scheepers

Steve JobsI am firmly of the opinion that the majority of the life-changing breakthroughs humanity has experienced has been brought about by people who knew when to challenge the rules.

There are people who are so stuck on following their rules, upon which they hang their sense of security and from which they make sense of the world. That annoys me. I guess it shouldn’t cause we’re all different, but it does.

I know I’ve made a case for rebels/rule challengers in part 1, part 2 and part 3, but in truth, it’s just a rant against hard core rule followers. As with everything in life, balance is key.

Rebels are people who don’t like to live their lives based on other people’s thinking and other people’s rules. As one of my childhood heroes, Steve Jobs, a man who knew the balance between when to break and when to follow the rules, and, who at the time of writing died 5 days ago, said in his Stanford speech…


“Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” – Steve Jobs

Rebels don’t dig authority because they don’t like the arrogance of other people forcing the results of their thinking on them.

“It is always safe to assume, not that the old way is wrong, but that there may be a better way.” – Henry F. Harrower

Rebels are good to have around, to the point of literally saving hundreds of lives. Rebels are not merely to be tolerated in order to harness their out-of-the-box thinking potential.

Probably my favorite author is Malcolm Gladwell. This blog post has been waiting to be written since I read his awesome book, Outliers about a year ago. In the book Gladwell talks about a concept called the Power Distance Index.

In a nutshell, the index measures how much a country’s people will challenge and assert themselves towards authority. In other words, someone low on the Power Distance Index feels that, though he is not the president of the country, he shouldn’t have to blindly follow what the president says. Someone high on the PDI will just follow along blindly trusting in the authority.

Gladwell tells the story of a plane that was circling above an airport for hours until it ran out of fuel and crashed. The question was asked as to why the pilots didn’t make their emergency blatantly clear to air traffic controllers, who were busy dealing with congested skies.

Turns out that the pilots were from a country with a very high PDI, making them culturally inclined to not challenge authority (the air traffic controllers). Also, the co-pilot wouldn’t challenge the pilot’s decisions, for the same reason. They were literally too **** scared to assert themselves and insist on some prime time attention to the point where they fell out of the sky. This is an extreme case, but it proves the point. Being low on the PDI, which rebels are, can be a life saving quality and being high on the PDI, which rule followers are, can and has killed people.

I know, I’m being dramatic.

I guess the key lesson to take away from this is that balance is a key to living a good, healthy, successful life. Balance is one of the cornerstones by which I live my life and, on a scale from 1-120, I would like to think my PDI is at about 40, which, incidentally, is the national PDI for the United States. Well done USA! And Rest in Peace Steve Jobs.

Power Distance Index (from chronic rebel to chronic rule follower)
1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120
Malaysia 104
Guatemala 95
Panama 95
Philippines 94
Mexico 81
Venezuela 81
China 80
Egypt 80
Iraq 80
Kuwait 80
Lebanon 80
Libya 80
Saudi Arabia 80
United Arab Emirates 80
Ecuador 78
Indonesia 78
Ghana 77
India 77
Nigeria 77
Sierra Leone 77
Singapore 74
Brazil 69
France 68
Hong Kong 68
Poland 68
Colombia 67
El Salvador 66
Turkey 66
Belgium 65
Ethiopia 64
Kenya 64
Peru 64
Tanzania 64
Thailand 64
Zambia 64
Chile 63
Portugal 63
Uruguay 61
Greece 60
South Korea 60
Iran 58
Taiwan 58
Czech Republic 57
Spain 57
Pakistan 55
Japan 54
Italy 50
Argentina 49
South Africa 49
Hungary 46
Jamaica 45
United States 40
Netherlands 38
Australia 36
Costa Rica 35
Germany 35
United Kingdom 35
Switzerland 34
Finland 33
Norway 31
Sweden 31
Ireland 28
New Zealand 22
Denmark 18
Israel 13
Austria 11