One of the most difficult but potentially compelling plays in strategy is to redefine the rules of the game. Those who write the new rules … and get them to stick, win.

Apple re-wrote the rules. Then they rewired the profit models of several industries … and well, it’s remarkable to watch.

Southwest wrote their own rules … and they wired in the profits as well. The rest of the industry still hasn’t figured out the right rules to make the game work for their firms. Buffet might have been right. (Warren, not Jimmy.) Investors would have been happier if someone had shot Wilbur down that fateful day at Kitty Hawk.

IBM changed their rules and the game they were in and saved themselves.

Long ago, Microsoft rewrote the rules. However, somewhere along the way, they lost the book that told them how to rewrite the rules. It doesn’t make them bad … just big and mundane.

Star Trek fans have known about the power of rewriting the rules for years. Kirk did this first. Kobayashi Maru, anyone? He took an un-winnable game and reprogrammed it in his favor. (OK, that’s my inner geek doing a shout out.)

Some companies and industries run into the forces of Creative Destruction. The rules are rewritten for them … and they capitulate, seemingly without a fight. Can you say Kodak? What about the entire publishing industry? Best Buy, the new rules are being written right now … not sure if you’ll be in the next game.

We get used to playing on a discrete playing field with familiar boundaries, whether it’s in our businesses or industries. We plot predictable strategies … with equally predictable tactics.

The same goes for our careers. We work in jobs … do little to strengthen or diversify our skills or experiences and then it happens. Wham. Out of nowhere, we’re out there … and when we look around, signs of the familiar are nowhere to be found.

On a personal level, strive to rewrite your own rules. Pursue a second discipline. Do something way outside of your routine that forces you to rethink everything you ever knew about a subject. Study companies outside your industry that are changing the rules and winning.

For those of you involved in setting the rules for your firms … quit planning the future of your business using the same dusty old playbook. Fight the inertial resistance of the status quo. If you’re not busy rewriting the rules for your business and industry, you can bet that someone else will do it for you. Soon.

This blog originally appeared at artpetty.com.

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