If You Want Your Content To Stand Out, Learn When To Break The Rules

Apr 27, 2021
Created by the author — original image from Unsplash


Flying front kick. Parry. Dummy jab in front of the eyes. Hook kick to the side of the head. Front leg sweep on the way down. Victory.

The crowd was stunned but my instructor shot me a glare. This wasn’t the defense-first approach I had been drilled with but I saw my opening and took it. I broke half of his rules but the audience loved it and wanted more.

After all, why is Karate a martial art if you can’t be creative every now and then?

Too many good creators online are more worried about disapproval from above than boring their audience. There are many people who can learn the basics and doing only this makes you incredibly predictable.

If your content can be reproduced easily by others following the same rules then it is likely bland and soulless. Nobody dreams of creating that. There’s nothing wrong with following the rules but don’t forget to have some fun too. Your audience will appreciate it!

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” — Pablo Picasso

Learn from the right people

One of the biggest problems at the start is you don’t know what you don’t know. This means you can fall victim to anyone who preaches how to be successful online despite having no idea what they are talking about.

Bad advice repeated by different people often enough is easily mistaken for good advice. Put some fancy formatting on it and call it a secret then voila. You’ve got to protect yourself from this.

On any social platform, the easiest way is to look at relative follower counts. You can probably ignore anyone with less than a hundred Instagram followers who is claiming to know how to grow fast. My mum has more followers and isn’t yet claiming to be an Instagram guru.

If someone doesn’t have this social proof, look at testimonials and whether other people have taken their advice and reached their goals. This is possible as many great coaches were poor in their own careers; soccer fans will know of Sir Alex Ferguson as a prime example.

Listen to these people and learn their rules.


Separate the rules from the laws

Once you’ve identified the right people to listen to, split their advice into rules or laws.

The difference between them is rules can be broken sometimes but laws should always be followed. You can decide which is which by comparing with the other people you’ve deemed trustworthy. It’s only a law if they all do it, otherwise, it’s just a rule.

A law might be don’t post racist content on YouTube. It would lead to your account being banned and its game over. Yet post a video every day is only a rule because while many vloggers do this, there are strong examples of people who don’t.

We don’t want to break the laws, only the rules at the perfect time.


Play teacher’s pet

The audacious combination I threw at my opponent would have been useless if I tried it as a beginner. I first needed to spend time building up my skillset so I could pull off the more daring tricks.

Don’t skip this step.

You’ll be found out quickly if you only break the common rules because you aren’t talented enough to implement them. Earn the right to be arrogant enough to dismiss the lessons of those who’ve paved the path for you.

Sure, there are anomalies who can do whatever they want and people love them from day one but don’t bank on being one of them.

The key is not getting stuck being the teacher’s pet.


Context is king

This is the most difficult part and it’s why many people struggle to make an impact. Anyone can memorize a bunch of rules but fewer can understand why they should be followed.

The Hemingway school of writing suggests you should never use words like “that”. They make a sentence longer unnecessarily. The argument makes sense from a purist point of view but clashes with other more important considerations.

I use “that” if it’s the best way to make an idea flow. Maybe I want the point to be made slightly slower to allow the reader to digest it. If I stripped out every inefficiency from my writing, it would lose my voice and feel less like a conversation. To me, that would be a bigger mistake. (Did you see what I did there?)

For whatever you choose to follow, understand what impact it has on your end audience. What they will think is always a greater concern than what the traditionalists say.

If you struggle to explain why following a rule will benefit your audience then why are you doing it?


Don’t stop listening but maybe stop doing

I still ask for feedback on all my writing and try to understand why someone has made the comment they have. Yet at my current stage, I can’t defer my opinion to other people’s every time.

I’m carving out my style and my way of doing things and if someone’s advice feels like it would make my work inorganic, I happily ignore it. Of course, if I want to use their audience then I must play by their rules or choose to go elsewhere.

On any platform, you’ll see the people at the top have different styles and their own voices. PewDiePie was locked in a battle with T Series for the most YouTube followers but it wouldn’t have made much sense for them to obey each other’s content rules.

They are different and different is good. Different is interesting!

At some point, you need to take the training wheels off and believe in yourself. If you’ve trained right, why not make that today?

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.