What About Sacred Cows And Breaking Rules?

Hell, there ain’t no rules. We’re trying to accomplish something here.

–Thomas Edison

As a photography enthusiast, I have evolved over the years with the evolution of the camera. I remember the days of the Polaroid camera, the Kodak Instamatic, and still have very fond memories of my first 35mm camera- a Canon AE1 program.  I was euphoric over the advent of the digital camera – my first was a Sony 3.2 megapixel Canon Cybershot that set me back a whopping $300+ dollars at the time.

Times have certainly changed with photography over the years. The quality is better as is the cost. It’s a great time to be an avid photographer. Innovation a great thing.

I am appreciative for the photography skills I learned back in the day. It made me a better photographer. But think of what I would be missing out on if I had not adapted over the years. What if I held onto an Instamatic mindset in this digital age?

Oddly enough, history is filled with organizations and leaders who have done just this.

In a blog post entitled 50 examples of corporations that failed to innovate, Katrina Aaslaid profiles 50 companies that “failed to innovate, and some ended up in failed businesses. Some are the biggest companies in the world.”  Included on the list are Kodak, Blockbuster, MySpace, Nokia, Sears, Polaroid, AOL, and Hummer, just to name a few.

Be it major companies, mom and pop retail shops, businesses large and small, and leaders in general, etc. one thing is clear – those who do not innovate and adapt to change will be on future lists like the one mentioned here.

Two of the largest obstacles to change and innovation come in the form of our traditions or sacred cows, and our rulebook. Both rob us of a future that could be ours.

So when is it appropriate to let go of the sacred cows and break the rules? Here are a few clues.

When your rules are no longer relevant

In his acclaimed book, It’s Not About the Coffee, Howard Behar advocates replacing the rulebook with a playbook. It’s a game-changing idea if embraced. Think about it – rulebooks are rigid, confining, predictable, and restrictive. A playbook, on the other hand, serves the opposite purpose. It’s liberating, creative, and has unlimited potential.

Think about your current “rulebook” those written or unwritten, spoken or unspoken ways of doing things. How are they working for you? So long as you are boxed in with dated thinking, old and tired solutions, with the same predictable outcomes, how can you honestly expect anything to change? Perhaps it’s time to bid farewell to the rulebook and embrace the playbook and unleash your best and brightest to take you to a new level. Otherwise, the view will always remain the same.

When sacred cows are worshipped on the altars of progress

It’s a sad day when progress and innovation are put on indefinite hold because we are too afraid to let go of our institutionalized sacred cows. It’s the proverbial “we’ve never done it this way before” approach or the holding onto mission or vision statements that are no longer relevant to the times in which we live.

Please know, I am not advocating disrespecting the past as it relates to the hard work, values, and sacrifices that made organizations great. What better way to honor the life and legacy of a good organization than to build upon it and make it better?

While your values must be bedrock and clear, the way you innovate and adapt to change will determine your future. What’s the point of holding onto the sacred cows of the past if they are not serving you well today? Would you rather have an organizational future based on innovation and change or an organizational funeral based on traditions and sacred cows that you were afraid to abandon? Click To Tweet

We know that change and innovation do not come easy. Righting the ship is hard work. But you must decide – preside over change and innovation with a bright future or preside over the status quo and decline.

For the sake of your future, maybe it’s time to break the rules and leave the sacred cows behind.


Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences. Doug is a John Maxwell Team member.

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  1. Funny, Doug, how sometimes life as we’re living it and others’ ideas come together at such opportune times, isn’t it? Your excellent article is one of several I’ve read recently here on innovation!

    I’m on the BOD of a 30-year condo association of small cottages on a bay in S.E. Mass. that was started as kind of a tent city back in the 1930s. It was not “run” by anyone; it was just a way for some folks who had nowhere to live to build a tiny community and feel safe. It went condo nearly 30 years ago because it got “discovered” and a lot of folks realized some order had to be implemented for everyone’s safety.

    Of course, we still have many families here — 3rd and 4th generations — who remember “how it was back then.” Before we went condo. Before we had rules about things.

    I’ve been here all of four years, and I’m learning to balance the realities that come with the innovation that’s necessary for us all to thrive and the feelings of those who sometimes still go back to the “sacred cows” and oral history they thought would be part of their lives here forever.

    Example: We do not have deeded parking, but some owners have always parked in “that” spot near their cottage and consider it their own. Oh, boy. Newcomers don’t see anything wrong with parking there if it’s an empty spot, but … trust me. We have had some seriously painful arguments about rights on that issue and others.

    “We know that change and innovation do not come easy. Righting the ship is hard work. But you must decide – preside over change and innovation with a bright future or preside over the status quo and decline.”

    Yup. So true. Doing what I can.