You won’t be remembered for doing things the same way as everybody else…
If you want to be exceptional, your behavior, by definition, has to be the exception — not the norm.
Sometimes, this is dangerous. Doing new things is fraught with risk. There’s an often-repeated (and quite culturally insensitive) saying that “pioneers are found dead by the side of the road, with arrows in their backs.”
The easy path to acceptable mediocrity is to look at what everybody else in your business or industry is doing, match that, and then try to do it 10% better to create a minor advantage.
And you know what?
If you’re a fan of acceptable mediocrity — if just being normal is the threshold that will make you happy — that’s a time-tested business strategy.
But if everything I’ve just written makes you cringe…
If you know you’re destined for bigger, better, exceptional things…
I think you’re going to like the rest of this essay.
If you want to be exceptional, you have to be willing to burn the rule book…
Now, before we go to deep into this, I want to be clear. Learning, memorizing, then burning the rule book is totally different than ignoring it altogether.
Pablo Picasso became one of the most famous artists in history for his abstract art. He burned the “what art is” rulebook of his time.
But he only did that AFTER he mastered that rulebook. By age 12 or so, he was creating incredibly realistic art that many art students of today would struggle to duplicate.
He learned realism — the art of the era — before he threw its principles out the window.
In any endeavor including business and marketing, it pays to know what others are doing that works. It pays to master the fundamentals. You must learn and even memorize the rules everyone else plays by.
Then, you take calculated risks.
You reject the rules and even burn the rulebook not because you don’t know how to follow them, but because you choose to be different.
A fascinating example…
If you were to open a restaurant today, I imagine you’d follow a few rules.
— You’d be open as much as possible throughout the main meal times, such as lunch and dinner.
— Until you had a reputation and consistent reservations, you’d likely accept walk-in traffic at all hours.
— You’d have a menu that offered many different options to suit different tastes, while highlighting your chef’s expertise.
— Your emphasis in most decision-making would be about giving your customers choice, and catering to their requests.
— You’d probably also try to have a large enough dining room to accommodate peak crowds and not have to turn to many potential customers away.
There are 1,000 other decisions you would make in starting the restaurant, but those represent some of the most common, most universal rules of the restaurant business.
And now for something completely different.
There’s a restaurant in New York City named Contra.
— You can’t just show up at any time to eat, they have just three seatings per day. There are just six guests per seating during the week, and only four per seating on Friday and Saturday evenings.
— They don’t have a menu, you eat what the chef chooses to prepare that day. (There’s no vegan menu and no dairy-free, though they will try to accommodate other serious food allergies.)
— It’s prix fixe, meaning you pay one fixed price for a six-course meal. You can pay extra for an added cheese side and/or wine pairing.
— You don’t pay after your meal, you pay when you book the reservation, and there’s no refunds. (If you’re late, they will offer your seat to a walk-in, who gets your seat but has to pay for their own meal.)
— Reservations are available exactly two weeks in advance, starting at 10 AM, and booked through their website.
In short, they break all the big rules that most restaurants seek to follow.
And granted, there’s a lot about New York City that makes this concept work especially well there, it should be noted that they’re quite successful.
Not only that, they get talked about. Their unique approach to running their restaurant earned them a ton of press when opening, no doubt ensuring a lot of success out of the gate.
Burning the rulebook can have other advantages as well…
When Picasso decided to throw out realism in favor of abstraction, he didn’t have to apologize for or fix mistakes. He didn’t have to justify when someone didn’t like how they looked in a painting, by arguing with them that it was how they truly looked.
These might sound silly, but they make the point. When you write the rules, your life and business run on your terms. Anybody has a problem with that? They can go play a different game.
Contra’s business model solves a bunch of issues around the restaurant business…
— They don’t have to deal with customers whose credit cards are declined and can’t pay their bills, because the meal was paid for when the reservation went through.
— They don’t have to over-staff for slow nights because they know exactly how many seats will be full at the beginning of the day.
— They don’t have to buy and waste food that won’t be eaten just to have options on the menu, because the chef dictates exactly what will leave the kitchen, and thus what needs to be bought.
The list could go on…
Plus, in Contra’s case, they’ve created a “velvet rope” scenario (named after the velvet ropes outside popular nightspots). Limited seating can stimulate demand. When demand trumps supply, the shortage of seating can increase demand. And this creates a feedback cycle that keeps them busy.
Another oft-used example is Southwest Airlines. They wrote their own rules, and while I’m not a fan of fighting for seats, it works for them and they have one of the industry’s highest customer satisfaction ratings.
When I launched my copywriting business on the back of an irresistible offer letter, I was breaking the rules of how to get clients. I wasn’t looking for published spec assignments. I wasn’t trawling job sites for copywriting opportunities. I wasn’t even approaching clients with a “will write for food” offer. I called out a client for a less-than-optimal sales page, and challenged him to let me beat it. It got me in the door, and launched my freelance career.
I later went on and applied that same principle by, for example, writing leads for ideal clients before they ever agreed to hire me, just to show them that I had an idea worth running with. Most “pro” copywriters will tell you that’s not how you do it, if you want a reputation as a professional. But I’ve never been one for following others’ rules.
A final word of warning…
Sometimes, breaking rules is a mistake. You learn why they’re there in the first place. And you respect that rule in the future, apologizing where necessary and accepting responsibility for any consequences.
But often you’ll realize in breaking the rules and burning the rulebook that the justification for most rules is “because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” and the rule represents a sub-optimal approach.
And it’s in doing things differently — sometimes very differently — that you send disruptive shock waves through your industry and lay down a set a new rules, creating an exceptional business and some big breakthroughs in the process…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
PS: I just added a Coming Soon page to BTMSinsiders, including the next two training titles set to be added to the catalog. The list will expand soon, and be regularly updated with additional titles as they are confirmed. Click here to see what the next BTMSinsiders training will be!