When to Play the Game, When to Break the Rules

In the Jocko Podcast published the 26th of December last year Jocko and Echo were talking about this dilemma of when to play the game and when to break the rules.

They were discussing discipline and ownership in wide ranging topics from business to war and from relationships to everyday life.

The Dilemmas

The discussions were centred around the question whether you should play along when you don’t agree with decisions made by higher ups. Sometimes you should just break the rules to take ownership.

However, in some cases it’s better to just play the game to be more effective. Jocko and Echo gave quite a few examples where these dilemmas apply. I would like to discuss this here and see if we can learn something from them to apply in our own lives.

Break the Rules

If you don’t like an assignment you’ve been given by someone higher up in the hierarchy, you could simply refuse to do it. Although I applaud you for sticking to your values, it might be counter effective.

Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re a lower level manager, a team lead for example. Your boss asks you to execute on a task with your team. You don’t think it can be done, or maybe you believe the assignment will do more harm than good to your organisation.

You can tell your boss to shove it, and refuse. What do you think happens? Either the boss likes your determination, or he will find someone else to do the job. The latter is more likely in a lot of organisations.

Now two things have happened. First of all, you’ve lost respect from your boss. That’s bad. Even though you might not like the guy, it’s generally better to have friends in an organisation.

The second thing that happened is that the boss found someone else to execute his plans. It will happen anyway. Now of course that doesn’t mean you should just do things you find morally questionable, but sometimes it’s better to suck its up and tell your boss you’ll do it. Then you go to the team and explain to them what’s happening and why. Then at least you’ve got some level of control over the outcome.

Play the Game

Playing the game simply means that you’ll comply with the rules because you know this will make you more effective in the long run. In the example above you would tell your boss you’ll do what he asks of you and then you execute your own plan.

If you go against him, or break the rules, he will find someone else. If you volunteer, even if you disagree, you still have some level of control over it.

Playing the game is a lifestyle choice. I recommend reading my pillars for a financial independence lifestyle.

An Example

The best example of someone playing the game would be Major Dick Winters in the television show Band of Brothers. The Colonel ordered Major Winters to go on a second patrol over the river. It was policy to never do this (as it would mean running into the enemy).

If Winters would have told Col. Sink to shove it, the Colonel would have found someone else to do it. Instead, the Major said “yes sir” and went on to draw his own plan. He gathered his men, and told them the deal.

He went out into the night with his company, and just sat and waited without actually crossing the river. When they came back the next morning, he reported they found no one.

This action probably saved the lives of many of his soldiers, and is an excellent example of playing the game right so that you can still apply control.

When to Play the Game in Your Own Life

Now you might wonder how to embed this into your own life. That could be difficult, I know. I find it difficult to even come up with an example!

The next time you are asked to do something which you think is a complete waste of time, money, or whatever, think about Major Winters in Band of Brothers. Think about your options.

On the one hand, you can probably refuse to do what you’re told. The consequences can range from nothing happens, to receiving a reprimande, to being fired. Anyway, your boss will probably find somehow who complies and gets the job done.

On the other hand, you have the option to say yes, I’ll do it. And then you go off, and do it your way.

Have you ever encountered this scenario in your own life? Let me know in the comments below!