Tyler Durden’s 8 Rules of Innovation

Tyler Durden

We all want to do remarkable things, and lead remarkable lives.

No one wants to spend the day engaged in mundane productivity in pursuit of a meaningless consumer existence. Certainly not you, right?

So why do we find it so hard to break out of our rut and do truly innovative things?

Because it’s hard. Because it often requires us to significantly alter our perspectives and step outside our comfort zones.

It’s almost like becoming another person.

I Know This Because Tyler Knows This…

If you haven’t seen the movie Fight Club (or read Chuck Palahniuk’s excellent novel), I won’t spoil the fantastic plot twist where we come to understand who Tyler Durden really is. The story isn’t for everyone, but if you think it’s about fighting, you’re on the wrong track.

At its core, Fight Club is about living the life you truly want to live, and the hard path to getting there. Tyler helps the story’s nameless hero (usually referred to as Jack) down that path to enlightenment, so maybe what Tyler says can help the rest of us as well.

Luckily, Tyler says a lot of things that apply directly to innovative action. Here are his 8 rules for creative people to live by.

Tyler’s First Rule of Innovation:

“No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”

This is the most important lesson, and it’s the one people struggle with and resist. Tim Ferriss advocates the 80/20 rule of productivity, where you focus relentlessly on the 20% of the actions that lead to 80% of the return. People see this as nice in theory, but not practical.

But believe it or not, this is how I’ve been running my businesses for the last 10 years. I used to actually feel guilty because I wasn’t constantly “getting things done” at a maniacal pace, even though I was enjoying increasingly significant success each year. It’s only been in the last few years I’ve realized that this approach is essential for entrepreneurs and creative professionals of all stripes.

The 80/20 rule of productivity requires radical elimination, or letting that which does not matter to creative moves truly slide. Use that newfound time for creative thinking that leads to innovative action, and you will succeed, guaranteed.

Tyler’s Second Rule of Innovation:

“No fear! No distractions! The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide!”

Seriously. Don’t break the first two rules.

Tyler’s Third Rule of Innovation:

“I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”

Let’s face it, when we break Tyler’s first two rules of innovation and distract ourselves with foolish productivity, it’s often because we’re afraid (which also violates Tyler’s first two rules). We’re afraid of failure, ridicule, risk, mediocrity, and perhaps even success itself.

If you’re going to evolve and grow as a creative person, you’re going to make mistakes. In fact, you should start making twice as many mistakes as soon as possible if you want to have an innovative breakthrough.

Make mistakes and let the chips fall where they may. You might like the landing.

Tyler’s Fourth Rule of Innovation:

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

Oh, yeah… don’t be afraid to make big mistakes. More importantly, don’t worry about everything going according to plan. In fact, if everything’s going according to plan, there’s a good chance nothing remarkable is getting done.

They say life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Innovation is what happens when you recognize when to change the plan and perhaps the entire game. Maybe your initial plan falls apart, or maybe you simply need to throw the current plan away.

Don’t let the plan restrict the freedom to have a game-changing idea, and act on it, at any time. Losing everything may be the best thing that ever happens to you.

Tyler’s Fifth Rule of Innovation:

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.”

When we talk about fear, risk, mistakes, and losing it all, what are we really afraid of? Are we defined by the stuff we own, or would we prefer to be defined by what we accomplish and create for the world?

I’m not saying give all your stuff away or take foolish risks that harm your family or yourself. I’m saying don’t let the stuff you own start to own you to the point that you can’t live the life you want to live and do the things you want to do.

Tyler’s Sixth Rule of Innovation:

“People do it everyday, they talk to themselves… they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it.”

I bet you’ve got a great idea right now, bouncing around in your head. What are you going to do with it?

Be what you’d like to be, and do what you’d like to do… it really is that simple. Having the courage to just run with it is the difference between a fulfilling life and a life full of regret.

Tyler’s Seventh Rule of Innovation:

“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.”

On the other hand, wearing black hipster clothing and hanging in cafes smoking Gaulloises cigarettes does not make you creative. Buying a MacBook Pro and an iPhone doesn’t get it done either.

Creativity and innovation are mainly about hard work. It’s about constantly coming up with ideas and thinking through problems instead of vegging out. And it’s about taking action, plain and simple.

Tyler’s Eighth Rule of Innovation:

“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”

First, you have to know, not fear, know that someday you are going to die. Until you know that, you have no sense of urgency. You think you have all the time in the world to do amazing things, but you may not live to see that particular someday.

So quit reading articles for a bit and go do what really needs to be done today.

About the Author: Brian Clark is a new media entrepreneur and co-founder of Lateral Action. Subscribe today to get free updates by email or RSS.

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Link round up « Emoats Place | October 6, 2008
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  3. Surf-it-Out « Maharajan | October 14, 2008
  4. The PHA : links for 2008-10-16 | October 16, 2008


  1. Awesome post. Awesome movie. Awesome breakdown of quotes from the movie. Definitely a post to re-read once a month or so.

  2. Great list guys, I’m a huge fan of Fight Club, stumbled!

    I mentioned some similar points in a recent post called ’10 Things You are Not’ where Fight club was the inspiration:


  3. Good post Brian.

    You talk about letting things slide and only focusing on the 20 percent that give us 80 percent results. But what about those things that slide? Some aren’t important – but they’re necessary.

    Joel Mark Witt

  4. Brilliant! Nice job bringing the salient points from a great movie into a manifesto for living.

  5. Absolutely, the 80/20 rule multiplies your results and breaks you free from constaints holding you back.

    But to be honest, the hard part is determining what 20% of your actions is giving that 80% of your results.

    Frankly, once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be so sure what you’re doing is right that you’ll never turn back.

    Craig Bellot

  6. Thank You Brian!

    This is the kick in the butt that I’ve needed for some time now. A month ago I was proud of myself. I set a September 1st deadline to complete my custom artwork website and I knocked it out, posted it, and told my friends about it, but that’s where it stopped. I didn’t publicly announce it because in my mind it wasn’t, and still isn’t, perfect. I have been afraid to show it to the world because I want to make the right first impression and without true product photography I haven’t been feeling it. Well I’ve since moved on to another project that is nearly complete, but also not ready for public viewing. Well, it is time to turn this around! Perfect or not, no regrets, it’s time to put my ideas out there starting right now with my web link in this comment. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Very inspiring list! I should seriously read this every day first thing when I get out of bed!

  8. No identifiable structure. Chaotic symmetry. Clutter, but only if it is searchable.
    At the end of the day, there are no 8 rules of Tyler, or whatever. At the end of the day, it is just you and whatever you have put around you. Yes, no fear and no rules. Ready to take the blame, brush up that chin. Ha, when you own your chin, you own every-friggin-thing. (try it, it rhymes) 🙂

  9. This is fing awesome! Tim sent me here and now I’m sending this to my team!! Thanks for filling my bucket today.


    A&R Mike Admani

  10. Dude this is seriously the best thing I have read in a very long time. Stumbled. Delicioused.

    I have been working on a personal development article about what really matters, and now I think I’ll just link here instead with my own spin on it 😉

  11. Brilliantly done! I think people often forget how important rule # 8 is and focus on being perfect when they should just jump back to rules 1 & 2.

    I think I’m in the mood to watch Tyler take over the world again.

    Chris Swain

  12. Fight Club works on so many levels and is different things to many people. It’s also ideally timed in the context of current trends in society, the rise of pop-philosophy, getting back to basics, discovering unbranded spirituality, less is more, and lifestyle design (Tim Ferriss).

    I think you’re confusing the power of nothingness (anti-matierialism) in your fourth rule with the self-definition idea in your fifth rule. “You are not your Khakis” isn’t about having less stuff (your fourth rule is), it’s about not confusing what you have or what you do with who you are.

    ‘Who you are’ is not fixed, which is why Tyler exists (it’s hard to explain without giving away too much, but hopefully those who’ve seen the movie understand what I’m saying). Essentially, that’s why the unnamed hero has the realisation at the end of the film – because he can ‘be’ either.

  13. Thanks for all the kind comments… I had a lot of fun writing this article.

    Joel, it depends on how you define “necessary.” So many things we think we have to do are actually optional.

    I think you’re confusing the power of nothingness (anti-matierialism) in your fourth rule with the self-definition idea in your fifth rule.

    Lee, I see the two as intricately related. So many people define their identities by money, social position, and the stuff they buy to “express” themselves. So they illogically avoid risk because they think it will destroy them if they lose all the stuff that defines them. In reality, you find out who you really are at those bottoming-out moments.

  14. What a great list of advice. Plus some good placements of links.

    This information is in alignment with a report I am writing called, “Shatter The Success Myth”. Its free and can be obtained soon at http://www.transilient.net

    Very encouraging message.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liking this Lateral Action site more and more.

  15. Great post Brian! I think a lot of people are frozen by the fear of making a mistake. What they are forgetting is that life is a journey! You live, you learn, you do better next time. Sometimes, not acting is actually much worse than acting and making that mistake you fear!

    I recently wrote an article relating to Tyler’s Fifth Rule. My biggest pet peeve is when people ask, “So, what do you do?” I know it’s an ice breaker question, but still, we are not our jobs.

    Thanks again for the inspiring writing. If you are interested in checking out the post I mention above, you can read that here. http://livewell360.com/2008/09/so-what-do-you-do/


  16. Well-balanced. Renaissance man. Multi-tasker. Not in the ring, my friend — that way lies defeat.

  17. I absolutely love it! Very well said. Sending this around to people who get it and others just on the cusp.

  18. Great use of Tylerism’s, Brian. Fear of making mistakes will kill creativity in the studio. Leads to stagnation. A friend and I were talking about just that on the phone today, then she emailed me this post LOL. Love it.

  19. Thank you for taking the time to point out the philosophical significance of “Fight Club”. I’ve not seen that movie for years. I’ll likely be watching it again soon, but through another pair of lenses, thanks to your post. 🙂

    These are definitely 8 rules to live by, both in our professional and personal lives. Whether it’s a person or a circumstance stealing your motivation or paralyzing you with fear, each of the above rules bring with it an inherent power to help you find motivation and conquer those fears. Very well-conceived and well-written…kudos!

  20. Your fourth innovation is dead-on!

    I’ve had the following quote taped up in my cube for almost three years now:

    “Live on the edge. Take chances. Strike out. Risk everything. Live.”

    I think people forget that life is about living, not about worrying or complaining, etc., but about living.

    And by living, I mean having the life you’ve always dreamed of having and doing all the things you’ve always dreamed of doing.

    I’m working hard at building my business and taking action on every innovative idea that comes my way so in another year or so, I can work full-time for myself and live the life I’ve been dreaming of.

  21. christopher DeShon says:

    reading this changed the way i was going to pursue the day…thanks

  22. How many times have I watched a movie making mental notes of the take aways, never to go back and track them down…godzillions (like every movie I’ve ever watched including this one)… Thanks both for the insights and the new practice…

  23. Great list for professional and personal motivation. And it makes me feel better about thinking “how do people find time to watch TV?”

  24. Great post – simple, easy and true.

    Having a tough time with the 80/20 rule. It’s sort of like the fourth step in AA or Sex Addicts Anon.

    Our boss can only say it so many times before I finally pick up on it, right? So far, I’m focused on getting things done, but is it to the quality I prefer? Probably not.

  25. Great article. You know, it’s nice to read points like this to become focused on what needs to be done, but more important (and usually more difficult) is actually sticking to the rules longer than a week or a few days.

    Thanks again.

  26. @Glen That’s a great article!

  27. I stumbled upon this. I’m to a great fan of fight club and I created a website for Tyler Durden Words of Wisdom. http://www.eminentgames.com .
    I’ve seen the movie like 50 times.

  28. Excellent article! Well said, and said true. Great movie as well, big fan.

    Take care!

  29. This is a great post and the movie sounds cool too.

    The best quote has to be, “People do it everyday, they talk to themselves… they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it.”

    I have bookmarked this in case I forget the quote.

  30. Great article. I’m enjoying these posts and interested in learing more with the whole group here. Just had a meeting this past weekend with a producer and I see where I definately need help with, coming up with a business plan and budget that is correct and a plan. Looking forward to more articles.

  31. excellent points! and what a good reference! its been so long since i have watched fight club that i almost started to think of it as a fight movie 🙂 The third rule is so necessary! and not just towards yourself -being able to share even mistakes with the world increases the creative flow significantly!

  32. Ehehe…great post!

  33. I’ve just printed this out and will read it every morning in order to ensure I am being as effective as possible and that I focus on the ‘Bigger picture’.

    Thanks for sharing… sometimes we all need a big slap in the face with a metaphorical wet fish and, for me, this is that fish.


    Simon Dance

  34. While I don’t disagree with the philosophy presented here, I wonder if it might be a mistake to view it as a route to success (depending, of course, on how you define success). I suppose, if you’re lucky, it might be. But not being afraid to fail (see, for instance, the third rule) can often just mean failing – the thing is people don’t hear about the failures, only the successes, et cetera.

    I say this because, checking the list, I am surprised at how many of those rules I already seem to live by without particularly trying to, but even in my particular area of endeavour, which is creative, but not often thought of as business, perhaps, it would be hard to describe myself so far, after an entire adult life of effort, as anything other than an abject failure.

    I’ll have to check the list again to see if there’s some key rule that I’m not getting, I think.

  35. This is going to get lost in a sea of comments, but hey.

    Thanks. I love when you write stuff like this, because now I’m going to spend another of those three-day runs constantly thinking over the damned post. Which means I get to procrastinate in the name of creative (and critical) thinking.

    Rock on.

  36. Awesome post. Genius to take the already GREAT Fight Club words of wisdom and expanding and personalizing them.

  37. I thoroughly enjoyed this article. The Fight Club analogy is outstanding, pure genius!

  38. Brian,

    You’re right on when it comes to these rules, and Fight Club is an all time favorite movie of mine (of course!)

    I especially like the 80/20 principle, it’s one I use all the time and strive to implement more every day.


  39. I try and live by the idea that there’s no merit in consistancy. I suppose this is Rule 3. Painters make good paintings bad by obsessively trying to ‘finish’ them. Don’t – it might not ‘work’ the way you want, but it might work in a whole new wayyou never thought of.

    These are genuinely great rules. If you follow them, it’ll all fall into place. But it’s having the balls to do it in the first place that matters – hence rules one and two.

  40. Brian, it’s hard not to like the content of the rules. Rules and innovation, however, isn’t that a contradiction in terms – or only wishful thinking on my side? How about Innovation Manifesto?

  41. Heiki, good catch. I used “rules” to stay congruent with the 8 rules of fight club. Otherwise, rules are often part of the problem.

  42. Diana Obretenova says:

    Great! I really enjoined this post very much. Remarkable post that should be read by many people. Well done, thanks.

  43. Great post.. Simple and relevant..

  44. Really cool post… and its spreading just like the fight clubs themselves. I’m thinking you missed the most obvious inspiration lesson of the movie – about embracing split personality, but maybe that was intentional so as to avoid spoilers.

    Which purpose I just foiled. Oh well.

  45. Excellent post – I want to pick up on the conversation between Heiki & Brian though. Creativity and Innovation does need structure and rules in order to work.

    The most creative people i.e. jazz musicians have to have rules and structure in which to be creative within. For instance, a jazz musician needs to learn keys, chord progressions and timing within which to be ‘creative’.

    It is the same within business – creativity is a skills you can learn and structure helps new idea flourish.

    See my post for more info http://blogs.holstgroup.co.uk/greenhat_thinking/2008/03/07/creativity-vs-innovation-the-ugly-truth/

  46. The 80/20 rule reminds me of what my father, Loren E. Dunton, used to advocate – the magic of compounded interest. In view of the chaos on Wall Street, and its compounding effect, it’s even more important that we invest our 20% wisely. Thanks, Brian. http://www.pagelambert.blogspot.com.

  47. BouCoupDinkyDau says:

    You like Fight Club’s advice? Read some more of Palahniuk’s other works. Choke is great. Rant and Survivor are also good.

  48. OK, You’ve inspired me to pick up the book. This sounds like it’s right up my alley. Creative post, thanks.

  49. Barbara Harris says:

    I am inspired!

  50. I agree with the Fight Club comparisons – to come up with something innovating you must think outside of the box and in ways that other people would not think of.

  51. #3 “I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”

    Ian and Brian, this is not awfully important but since we all seem to care more than average about the subject and enjoy a nice, civilized chat about it, here I go again … I do understand the need for structure and focus in problem solving and innovation work in general. I’ve gained so much by applying de Bono’s framework in that regard. I do think, though, that it’s just as important to disregard all of the structure and focus you planned for, if during the process the energy takes you elsewhere – let go and let it evolve.

    As mentioned, I really liked Brian’s content, and for me it was much more about attitude than anything else. I just keep dreaming that the Command and Control guys can keep the “rules” word for themselves 🙂

    Finally, I’m a true believer of the use of boundaries as applied in the Cynefin framework by the Cognitive Edge (Dave Snowden).


  52. May I share? I wrote this a few months ago. It’s a little zen for some but I have been living lifestyle design for awhile now and didn’t know it had a name until recently. Train of thought with references to Matrix and Fight Club. 🙂

    Three Questions to Ask Yourself

    Love the break down of the quotes. Fight Club is such a wonderful and straight shooting wake up call.

  53. I’ve always loved that movie and it’s deeper messages. Thanks for the reminder.

  54. Now I have to go buy this movie. Been on my favorites list forever, but it should be in my collection. LOVE THIS MOVIE

  55. Hip!

  56. OMG I love the last one! My grandmother always said you can’t have a good life without a lot of good days…this just adds another punchline! Thank you for a great chuckle this morning…and an impressive post.

  57. Absolutely AMAZING post. Could not agree with you more! It is once you stop believing in your own actions that innovation truly comes alive. Doing what you want is essential to happiness and sometimes scares you.

  58. I never know about this movie until i started reading Kenn Viselmann’s “Eight Giant steps to Global Domination”.

    A brilliant movie.. very few movies of that kind could carry the suspense..

  59. Bookmarked this little gem of inspiration, Tyler is oft underestimated and more often goes unnoticed. This post has brightened my day and convinced me to join your Feed Club.

  60. “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.”

    Reminds me of my favorite quote:

    A year from now the only thing that matters is the books you read and the people you meet.


    Who cares if your IRA is up 200% or down 600%–“throw me and all my money in the hudson river and i’ll make it all back again.” (Rockefeller or Carnegie or JP Morgan or some rich dude)

    Life/business isn’t about making money it’s about the experiences playing the game.

  61. Your words describe the path I’m taking. Thanks for the indirect support. Having readers who respond to my novel, or column, or blog (some of whom become friends) is a great experience. When a fellow writer asks me about $ales I have no Idea. Well, I know I’m not making tins of cash, but the book si in my state library branches, people whose art I admire have expressed real appreciation or my work Each reader is a gift. I never let any e-mail go unanswered. I write everyday and carry paper & pen everywhere.

    “Though the superior person resides in a garret, their words are echoed from ten thousand miles away.” Confucious
    Just writing every day…….Aloha!

  62. #20: “I’ve had the following quote taped up in my cube for almost three years now”

    You’re doing it wrong.

    And parent post- what if you like french cigarettes?

  63. Love the comparison of butt feathers to Gaulloises. Work is about doing, evolving, getting better and occasionally looking at the truth that we all suck sometime. Costuming and posing are just masks for fear.

  64. What if you like french cigarettes?

    You can like french cigarettes or Mac products or black leather all you want… it just doesn’t make you creative or an effective reader.

  65. RE: Tyler’s Fifth Rule

    You’re not your fucking blog, either…

  66. If that last segment of the article doesn’t spur people on to action I don’t know what will: This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time. And, “quit reading articles and do what needs to be done today.”

    Point taken. (browser closing)

    This post makes me think about how much time and effort I put into worries and thoughts about money, success, and how others see me in terms of a where I am in a career or profession.

    Thoughts like that are a waste of time. Well done Tyler.

  67. Dear Brian!

    I was browsing through your website and exploring your thoughts on Creativity and Innovation. I enjoyed reading several of your blogs and I felt that your ideas on Innovation were quite insightful. I am an Innovation Research Assistant at The DeSai Group- a consulting firm that focuses on the domains of Strategy-Driven Innovation™, Leadership, Learning and Execution capabilities for continuous growth and optimal business results. Feel free to visit us at http://www.desai.com

    I would like to take the liberty to welcome you to our “Community of Friends” at the DeSai Group. We look forward to inviting you in on-going research and collaborative conversations in the future.

    I look forward to hearing back from you.

    Best Regards,

    Yauhan Mehta
    Innovation Research Assistant
    ymehta@desai.com / (860)-233-0011 x818
    The DeSai Group: http://www.desai.com
    Blog & Downloads: http://www.strategydriveninnovation.com

  68. Intense, useful, kick-ass ideas. I’ll use them. Especially 1 and 2.