Break The Rules For Success

A New Generation Of Independent Thinkers

Teaching your students how to break the rules may seem like an insane idea best left to the halls of St Trinians. But rebellion is exactly what the headteacher of a leading private school has suggested. Nigel Lashbrook, head of Oakham School in Rutland, believes that pupils need to be encouraged to challenge the status quo in order to develop independent thinking skills and the determination to stand up for what they believe in. Speaking at the close of Oakham’s ‘Rules and Rebellion Week’, Mr Lashbrook argued that history reveals that great acts of social change were initiated by those individuals who were brave enough to resist the established legal and social norms of their day and instead fight for what they saw as a better future. He pointed to well-known rebels such as Rosa Parks and Emmeline Pankhurst, who broke the social rules of their time to help bring about the end of segregation and female inequality. Students are taught about important historical figures such as these, but rarely encouraged to question authority themselves. Mr Lashbrook noted that children need to develop an inquisitive mind and the confidence to critically examine accepted norms, regardless of who is enforcing them.

Encourage More Naughty Business

The world of business is full of individuals who challenged and continue to challenge accepted practices both within and outside of their industries. Thinking outside of the box allows for the creation and development of new products, new services, new methods of advertising, or expanding existing business; all helping to create successful enterprise. Figures such as business moguls Steve Jobs and Richard Branson or inventors like James Dyson show how individuals are able to make an impact by challenging the rules of business.

Several studies have shown a correlation between the willingness of a student to question authority and ignore rules and their likelihood of success later in life. One such study at the Centre for Economic Performance looked at the different traits associated with individuals who took on entrepreneur roles in adulthood compared to those associated with other employment types, and investigated who was most successful. They found that entrepreneurs scored more highly on learning aptitude tests, but engaged in more aggressive, illicit, risk-taking behaviour (Levine & Rubinstein, 2013). The researchers concluded that an ideal combination for future business success was a high cognitive ability and an aggressive or risk-taking tendency in childhood. These characteristics predicted a higher likelihood that an individual would become an entrepreneur and also led to higher comparative earnings per hour than their salaried peers.

Should We Amend Zero Tolerance Policies?

The above findings may cause some schools to reconsider how they deal with their more disruptive pupils. An excellent example was recently highlighted in the media in the form of Tommie Rose, a teenage student who faced suspension for running a successful tuck-shop during school hours. The young businessman managed to earn £14,000 to fund a business degree at university before the shop was shut down for breaking school rules on healthy eating. Despite being forced to close, he has earned a great deal of praise and encouragement from business leaders in the UK, who have applauded the young man’s entrepreneurial spirit.

The difficulty then falls on teachers and parents in deciding whether youngsters like Tommie Rose should be punished or given praise for their ventures. The trend towards zero tolerance policies for bad behaviour may not be the correct approach if we want to ensure that creative thinking and enterprise is not stifled in the next generation of business men and women. Rather than automatically disciplining individuals who break rules, a more advantageous option for everyone involved would be to direct their energies towards structured business education and practice.

Several projects and organisations have been set up in the UK to support young people entering and finding success in the business world. The Piggy Bank is a national business magazine aimed at youngsters that explains different aspects of the world of finance and business in an easy to understand format. The Fiver Challenge, set up by Young Enterprise, offers primary school students £5 to set up a small commercial venture with the aim of learning about planning, marketing, sales, and most importantly profit. A similar scheme, The Tenner Challenge, is aimed at high-school students. Both schemes offer free resources to develop the student’s business acumen and support for teachers wanting to include the whole class. Additionally, the Princes Trust runs an Enterprise Programme that offers start-up services such as training, one-to-one support, and finance to 18-30 year olds who want to explore a business idea after leaving school.

As Mr Lashbrook noted, the school curriculum is full of theories, approaches and knowledge that would not exist today if it hadn’t been for all those individuals in the past who refused to accept things as they were. Rebels who saw a way to improve on the accepted rules of their time shaped the 20th century, and a new generation of modern rebels will be needed to shape the future.


Photo: Timothy Tolle

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