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.


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.


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?

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.

©2019 Doug Dickerson


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