Photo by leo0b on Flickr

This is How it Works: This is Not How it Works

Alex Billington
Aug 11, 2013 · 4 min read

I’ve heard this phrase uttered countless times in business discussions. “This is how it works.” Every time I hear it, I want to exclaim in response: “No, it’s not!”

This is what they tell you about how it all works: we all work from 9 to 5, we get weekends off, we pay rent, we pay taxes, we enjoy this world. Mess with the system and you’re an outsider, pegged as a criminal or crazy, someone who doesn’t want to play the game and thus shouldn’t be allowed to even watch anymore. This is how it works: it costs money to have a life, you need to make money from a job, you need education to get a job, you need to be open to learning to get an education. (Okay, yea that is how it works but that’s a big picture version.) It’s impossible to live outside of the “this is how it works” system. Or is it?

I hear this repressive phrase uttered most often when I’m arguing with Regular and Senior Vice Presidents and they claim, because I’m challenging an accepted norm or disrupting the way things work, that “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” That exact phrase is often quickly followed by “This is how it works, Alex.” It’s an excuse. It’s a way to say, this is the system as I’ve been taught and it works for us (for everyone), so don’t fix what isn’t broken, don’t mess with what works and what is the industry standard. But the thing is, I love disrupting the “industry standard” and if anything, disruption is a integral part of modern innovation and progress in today’s information age.

Most people think of “this is how it works” as a rationale in their mind. A way to say, well, this is the how the world works and I have to play by these rules if I want to live a happy, satisfactory, successful life. (Not true.) To me, that’s limiting, it’s being forced to work one way which is constantly perpetuated as the only way. But I love pushing the boundaries and saying there are no limits, which is where some of the greatest creative progress can come from. Many vital lessons in history have shown that stifling free thinking and forcing one understanding are often traits of tyranny and oppression rather than liberty.

However, many creative thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs think differently. Their mantra is the opposite: “this is not how it works.” Or maybe “this may be how it works now, but this is how it will work when we change the world/the way things work.” That’s where big ideas and great change comes from. From those who actively desire to shake up the system and the rules and the norms that are perpetuated as “this is how it works.” An excellent example of this is the Khan Academy.

My advice: stop using “this is how it works” as a defense, or an excuse. Use it as motivation. Use it as a guide for where you should coming from. Use it as a starting point: “this is how it works today, but this is how we want it to work tomorrow, and this is how we want it to work the next day.” That begs the question: how? Experiment, create, believe in what you know and the inspiration found all around us. Let your imagination and creativity run wild. Let innovation rule the day, even if it’s risky and cautious, show the world that anyone can reinvent the way things work as long as they stop preventing themselves from living in a closed off world of “this is how it works” so don’t even try anything else.

To most people, I probably sound crazy. To most, “this is how it works” is the backbone of their understanding of this world, because life is difficult and you have to earn a living to enjoy life and all its pleasures, no matter what country or social class you’re from. Yes, that is how it works. But that doesn’t mean that phrase should be an easy excuse for limiting your own creative freedom, or the potential to innovate, redefine, reinvent or recreate the world (and “how it works”) as we know it. Things work the way they do because we perpetuate complacency and contentment without question. However, genuine innovation and thinking outside of the box are becoming recognized as the traits of forward-thinking, insightful, successful pioneers.

The people we should admire the most are the ones who stand up to “this is how it works” and respond, bluntly and boldly, that “this is not how it has to work.” Many people in this world will try and tell you what to do, how to act, how to live, how to think. Many people will tell you “this is how it works” and won’t let you try anything else, won’t let you do it any other way or be cast as an outsider. These people are the biggest roadblocks in life, the people we have to learn to ignore, even if they’re our close friends or family. Don’t let anyone hold you back from your true potential, don’t let anyone tell you “this is how it works” and there’s no other way. Because there’s always another way. Sometimes you just have to be one of first to choose to walk down that path.

    Alex Billington

    Written by

    Alex of Cinema lover, photographer, geek, citizen of the world. Based in Berlin, Germany.

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