Scandal always captures our attention. And, the recent Operation Varsity Blues scandal was no exception. It included the sizzle of celebrity, the intrigue of wealth, and the moral fiber of the mafia--because it revealed that many people in power often believe it's okay to break the rules. But, there was something good that came from this scandal, and it may not be what you think. It's a conversation we've all been waiting to discuss.

Admittedly, I've always been impressed by the scrappy people in this world--the rogue souls who find their own path, the innovators  who change the rules, and the daring who willingly stare risk in the face. Those are the people I've always believed to actually become our best leaders--regardless of their credentials. And, I assume I'm not alone in thinking this way. While a formal education from a prestigious school is highly impressive, it is the things people do after the degree that I think really matter. Do you passionately chase a dream, leap over insurmountable hurdles, challenge the status quo and exemplify persistence? That's scrappy. That's impressive.

Of course, you could argue that all of those qualities I've just mentioned could be attributed to the players in Operation Varsity Blues. They did overcome hurdles. They did change the rules. And, they obviously displayed persistence. Yet, no one would call them innovative. We wouldn't call them daring. In fact, we might just call them cheaters and cowards. And, this leads to my point.

It's true that there is certain brilliance about people who can find loopholes and use them to their advantage. But, there's also a fine gray line that begs all of us to ask the question, "Is my loophole hurting someone else?"

A good example might be this: You want to get an interview with a new employer, or a potential new client, and you happen to know someone who can recommend you from the inside. Is this a loophole to the standard process? Yes. But, it's okay. Somehow you've earned the trust of the person recommending you. And, most of us would say, "That's a smart game play."

So, where is the line? How is knowing someone on the inside different than any other form of manipulation that gives you the advantage?

1. Do you know the difference between the rules and the processes?

This is the first, and most clear aspect of avoiding scandal. You need to know the rules and laws, and understand that they're different than processes. Processes can be manipulated. Maybe, for example, a company has a process that creates a standard way of doing things--hiring people, promoting people, or vetting vendors. These 'standards' can be broken. In fact, I would suggest you look for ways to stand out from your competition. Look for people who can help you. Look for different ways to build new relationships.

2. How will your reputation be defined by your actions?

We live in a world where it takes a lifetime to build a stellar reputation, and just one mistake to crush it. And, while many people might say they don't care about their reputation, it's important to realize how much of role it plays in your life--because it's one the only aspects that you cannot control. Other people do. Think about it before you make any decision.

3. Who else wins?

This is difficult question to ask yourself, especially when you see an opportunity that would greatly improve your own situation. And, although I suggest everyone claws, kicks, and scratches to earn the life they think they deserve, we all need to remember that we're not in this game alone, and, quite often, the people who achieve the most, are those who understand how to help others win as well.

4. Is it a secret?

Of all these tips, this might be the most telling difference between scrappiness and scandalous. The next time you look for a hack, or a loophole, or an advantage, ask yourself how many people you're willing to tell about it. If you want to keep it a secret, it would be wise to move in another direction. But, if your ingenious makes you proud, plow forward my friend.

All of us want to creatively find advantages in life. We all want to become our best. And, hopefully, all of us want others to become their best as well. We only get one chance.

Published on: Mar 29, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.