Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.

Successful leaders didn’t become successful by following rules. Steve Jobs broke rules when he introduced an affordable and powerful personal computer to the masses. Sir Richard Branson broke every rule in building Virgin Group because, as he says, “I never learned the rules in the first place.”

I’ve broken many rules too. I broke the rule of the salaryman when I quit my fast-track job at Industrial Bank of Japan. I broke a cultural rule when I mandated all Rakuten employees speak English. I will continue to break any rules that stand in the way of my vision and Rakuten’s mission of empowering society through the power of the Internet.

To succeed you must break a few rules.

When breaking rules you can’t compromise your best interests and values. It’s not an easy balance to strike. We have all seen brilliant ideas stall and founder because a business owner could not find a way to both disrupt and survive.

Here are my rules for breaking rules:

  1. Know the reason. Rules should be broken for myriad reasons. Breaking an old rule could introduce you to new efficiencies. Hire someone whose strength is your weakness and open yourself to a new way of thinking. Ignore your competition and focus on doing things differently and exceeding your customer’s expectation.
  2. Allow for time.  Rule breaking sounds like it should be a quick process, but it’s not. To rewrite a rule, it may take time to make your case, alter your actions, bring others around to your way of thinking. If you are committed to breaking a rule, you must also commit to the time it will take.
  3. It never ends. I have been challenging and rewriting the rules of my business since I entered into it and I probably always will. Business is not static. It is ever changing and so the rules much change with it. When you follow a path of rule breaking, you can expect it to be long and busy.

There are many opportunities to break rules and be disruptive. Anytime you hear someone say, “But that’s the way it’s always been done!” you probably have an opportunity to disrupt. But spotting an opportunity and successfully breaking rules are two different things. Learn the right way to break old rules and you will find success.