Why Blind Obedience is Killing Your Business

image of a hedge maze

Picture three men racing through a tall hedge maze.

The first man runs off and begins following paths randomly, hoping to stumble upon the exit.

The second man is more methodical. He puts one hand on a wall of the maze and resolves to keep moving forward slowly, never taking his hand off the wall. Eventually, thanks to the rules of topology, he knows he’ll find the outside.

The third man pushes and shoves directly through the hedges in a straight line, finishing in thirty seconds flat and declaring himself the winner.

Did the third man cheat?

Maybe. But he also won.

How to cheat in business

If you’ve read everything in the world about how to make your business better and it’s still not better, I bet I know what the problem is.

If you’re doing everything right, but find yourself unable to stand out from your competitors and are barely able to keep your head above water, I can guess what’s missing.

The problem is that you’re listening too closely. You’re implementing too literally. You’re following too many conventions, societal norms, expectations of friends, “the way things have always been done,” and best practices.

To stand out, you need to think outside the box. You need to play by fewer rules.

Am I really going to advocate cheating here? Well, sort of.

And also, not really.

See, if the hedge maze race I’ve described above was a formally sanctioned Hedge Maze Runners of Northern Michigan competition with a prize purse at stake, and contest rules clearly stating that no contestant may run directly through the walls of the maze, then we can safely call our third man a dirty cheater and say he’s a miserable human being, and so on and so forth.

But what if the three men were racing out of the maze because a child was drowning in the lake outside? Do we call the third man a cheater now? Or do we call him smart and probably even a hero, because he thought of a lightning-fast solution that didn’t occur to the others?

There are two important points I’m trying to make here with my silly maze metaphor:

  1. Whether or not “defying the normal way of doing things” is brilliant or a travesty is a matter of circumstance, and a matter of opinion. Breaking rules isn’t right and it isn’t wrong. It just is.
  2. We are all, right now, in a maze of our own. Some of the rules of the maze called “life” serve us and protect us, but some are forcing us to plod along with one hand on the wall, making our way slowly to the finish, while the kid drowns in the lake.

The rules you’ve been following have nudged you into a box. And if that box is serving you and everything is perfect, then great.

But if life could be better — if you don’t have all that you’d really like in your business, your life, your relationships, your family, and everything else — then it might be time to take a close look at those rules and see which ones you can start to disobey.

How to be crazy in business

If anyone thinks I’m going to suggest cutting out the middlemen in the wealth-acquisition chain by robbing a bank, relax. I don’t want anyone to do anything stupid.

Quite the contrary. I want people to stop doing stupid things, like taking the long route instead of the shortcut simply because the map says they should.

I recently heard from a man who had a job in the city.

He hated his job, but he had to have the job so that he could afford his house. He didn’t like his house much either, but it was all he could find that was close to the city. And he had to be near the city to keep the job he hated, so that he could afford the house that he didn’t like but had to keep because it allowed him to keep the job he hated.

So he quit the job and moved to the country, where the land was cheap, and became a freelancer, working remotely for a lot less money. His old job was an impressive, professional job that he had worked hard to get, and everyone thought he was crazy for throwing it all away, going independent.

But he didn’t think he was crazy.

He was making less money, but because of his new, lower cost of living, he was netting much more. He’d found a way to make less money and have more money, which is just about the easiest way ever to get a raise.

All of the most successful people do things that others call crazy, because innovation always comes before genius, and innovation is — by definition — always new. If you’re the first person in your group of peers to do the most brilliant thing in the world, your peers will still think you’re crazy because you’re breaking out of step. But that’s exactly what’s required to be successful.

Look at Steve Jobs.

Look at wacky old Albert Einstein.

I even know this lawyer dude who gave it all up to start a blog, and people thought he was crazy, too. (Only, he really is crazy. Seems to work for him, though.)

Want to really make a change? Then you need to look at what you’ve always done and what most people do and ask if there’s a better way. You need to ask if you want to keep playing by the rules that don’t serve you. You need to be willing to be called “crazy.”

A primer in entrepreneurial disobedience

I held a webinar a bit ago that was all about learning to identify, question, and (if necessary) break the rules that are stopping you. The webinar is over, but I’ve archived the recording.

It’s called Breaking Rules for Fun and Profit: 21 Lies About Business, Money, and Life That You Don’t Even Realize Are Holding You Back, and What To Do About Them.

Here are a few of the 21 lies I talk about:

  • You need money to start a business (including big ones, like restaurants).
  • You need to have a product in order to sell a product.
  • You have to have a niche.
  • You are unable to do X, Y, or Z skill (for 99% of all letters of the alphabet).
  • You need to have a plan, goals, or an idea where your business is going.
  • You need a lot of money to live on a yacht, live in an island paradise, or travel the world.
  • You don’t have any connections or know any of the right people.

None of the above is true. If you’ve been mistaking lies for the truth, you’re cutting off vast areas of possibility.

Watch the “Breaking Rules for Fun and Profit” webinar recording here.

But don’t go signing up just because I said you should. That would be entirely too obedient of you.

About the Author: Johnny B. Truant just released his novel The Bialy Pimps despite the fact that it’s totally crazy for a business and human potential blogger to write a novel about fame and bagels.

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Comments

  1. Dear JBT
    Sounds like you’re putting the emphasis on “seeing” or conscious disobedience. Blind disobedience might be creative but reactionary, making the rule and our need to break it the masters. Seeing obedience has its place, when it smooths a path, gathers allies and avoids reinventing the wheel. Conscious disobedience is the art form of genius.
    Provoking post and well done shameless plug!
    *tipping cap*

  2. Hi Johnny,

    Spot on post. I have a good example for you.

    I received 100 visits a day to my gifting blog as of last week. I tried something different, sending out a flurry of automated tweets in a short time frame, for about a 12 minute period, each hour. The first day I did this for a series of hours, then I did it for 24 hours.

    100 visits a day went to 1000 visits a day. Overnight. Literally. 1500 visits yesterday. My opt-ins tripled. My gifting prospects grew quickly. Convention says, tweet every hour. Do not tweet every 1 to 2 minutes. Spread them out. Do not fill the stream. Do not overflow the stream. Don’t tweet too much. People will tune you out. All that stuff, and more stuff, that is what convention says. But I rest at 1000 visitors a day, and the numbers continue to rise each day.

    I received an urge, went against convention, lost the fear of cheesing anybody off, and now I’ve received more traffic in the past week than I have over the past 2 months.

    I’ve used a few other off the beaten path strategies like running 2 blogs – on a similar topic – and posting twice a day to each blog. I am also travelling the world for the past 9 months, and am living a pretty darn cool life, engaged in a private activity and using some pretty unorthodox methods to market it.

    Conventional thinking produces a conventional life. If you hop off the beaten path you soon find out, the beaten path sucks. All the fun stuff is where people haven’t explored, where people do not dare to go. This is the toughest lesson for most to embrace, and it was for me, for quite a bit, but now I love it, because I see the really good stuff in life and best experiences lie in undiscovered or unexplored areas.

    Thanks for sharing Johnny!

    Ryan

    • I SO needed this post today. I’ve been crazy for a loooong time but I’m endeavoring on something that tons of people think is a great idea but everyone who knows the “system that’s always been” tells me I’ll face a herculean challenge. I believe in the project and I know it will work. It’s just that no one’s ever tried it before.

      Just last night I asked my husband: “Am I crazy?” and he said “No”. But he’s as crazy as I am…so who knows?

      Innovation requires risk and success and happiness are proportional to the risks taken. Thinking innovatively is natural for many people and unnatural for many more. But acting innovatively is even more rare. This post today was just what the doctor ordered.

      THANKS.

    • That is BADASS!

  3. I like crazy, it’s all the sane people out there you have to watch out for. I spent years working in factories so that I would have the money to raise my kids. Then the factories started closing up in this area. I faced a fork in the road. I could have moved to where there were more jobs available, but I was getting up there in age and knew that factory work was only going to be viable for a few more years. So, since my kids were grown and living their own life, I went back to shcool and started freelance writing.
    I lost track of the number of people who told me I was crazy, but that’s ok, I already knew I was. However, starting over doing something that I have always loved to do didn’t seem all that crazy to me. I’m still consolidating my customer list, but it is growing, and they are happy customers. I am able to stay at home and make enough of an income to keep me in the books I love to read. Will I ever get to the point where I feel I’m rich? Maybe not, but having more money than I need has never been high on my priority list.
    Thanks for the blog, it helped reinforce what I already knew. Crazy is a good thing!

  4. Enjoyed this post. The conformist’s path is a risky one these days. Shutting off all ingenuity for that steady paycheck – gradually sinking into a trance.

    • And really, is there any such thing anymore as a “steady paycheck”? There are NO guarantees in life and much less so nowadays. People need to wake up and innovate, follow their dreams, create back up plans and become independently minded. Far too many folks thought they had a “steady and reliable” life only to discover otherwise. And far too many of them still send thousands of resumes out hoping and praying for a chance to…get a job and worry about whether they’ll be the first to be let go a year, two years down the line.

      I say, it’s time for a complete restructuring of how we think about our lives, our livelihoods, and our passions.

  5. Love this post because being bound by “rules” (especially unspoken, unconscious rules) is something I’ve realized has been holding me back. I’ve even seen it hold entire industries hostage. The realization hit home a few months ago when I met Lewis Howes at a conference (he’s an internet marketer who has built an empire with webinars.) Lewis said that because he’d never been in business (he’s a former arena football player) he’s not stymied by the rules of business at all. It opened my eyes to my own hidden rules. Coming from the corporate world, *everyone* knows that you can’t charge for webinars because people won’t pay. Ahem, Lewis proved that there was a huge market of people who weren’t aware of that rule.

    I’m halfway through Bialy Pimps (thanks to a tweet from Jon Morrow.) So far, it reminds me a bit of Confederacy of Dunces (which I loved.) I’m dying to know if any of the characters or events are the slightest bit autobiographical:).

  6. Johnny,

    First, it’s great to have you on board, once again. It seems you were out of circulation for a while. We were wondering if you had decided to move to an exotic island or, worse, landed a corporate job on Wall Street working for a blue-chipper!

    Even so: all’s well that ends well, after all, so welcome back. It is always a treat for me to read your writing. As usual.

    Sticking to conventions made sense in the industrial age. You punched a clock and did time like you were serving a sentence in jail. Now, however, the industrial age is archaic. By contrast, we have already entered the information age.

    Since the “social contract” is no longer there, it makes sense to value quality of life issues (information age) over standard of living issues (industrial age). In that context, your friend is part of a growing movement that values the ambience of the countryside to the impersonality and mechanical lifestyle of the big cities. In short, he is not alone.

    Technology has made it possible to earn a living even if you live in an obcure location. A lot of people are joining the bandwagon, so now it has almost become a trend. It is not crazy to follow your heart. Steve Jobs followed his heart and created history. And creeping credentialism plagues us, so it is no longer necessary to be college-educated. What matters? Skills and competencies. Knowledge is something a person can acquire through self-study anyway, so who needs Harvard? When you stumble off the beaten track, you become an innovator. And it is our innovators who take risks and discover new lands and ideas. Your blog post was spot on and we appreciate your work. Thanks. Cheers.

  7. The more I listen to my customers – actually talk to them, and watch what they do on my site the more I’m led away from so called best practices.

    For instance, I ran the numbers and found that new visitors who hit my site and browse my blog are less likely to sign up to my email list. It may be better for me to take my blog out of my top level navigation, and not make it the centerpiece of my site.

    • That’s a good point — best practices should be a starting point, a launch pad from where you can actually listen to / observe your own audience and do more of what works for them.

      • I figure it’s a good idea to gather a lot of INFORMATION, but to remember that it’s all just that… information. And you can weigh it a bit based on who told you, and their results, etc. It’s when it becomes unbreakable dogma that I think it’s dangerous.

  8. I dig it. Find ways to break the rules.

    I don’t like to think of it as ‘thinking outside the box’ as much as I like ‘thinking inside a very large box, where your ideas can bounce around a little before everyone sees them.’

  9. Point taken, but I think a blogger needs to be around for awhile and at least to some degree learn this lesson the hard way. Every person just starting out online is inundated by advice from ‘experts’ telling them what they need to do and if they dare not do it they are either an idot or doomed to failure. Every time I read an article headline that has words like “essential” or “critical” or “absolute must” in it I cringe just thinking about all the poor newbee saps who are going to believe the hype.

  10. It’s so true that doing things new and “weird” often works. I noticed that every time I hear laughing from my creative group….it usually ends up to be the best (highest performing” creative. My blog: http://www,joyofdirectmarketing.com was doing okay for a while, but not great. Then we crossed off the word Direct…and voila! Traffic started building. Who knew?

  11. Johnny,

    Yes, “We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy!”

    I researched and wrote up a little on Einstein, actually, and how it was he was able to think outside of the box. Here’s a link to it: http://higherpayingskills.com/2011/12/how-einstein-got-smart-learning/

    Thanks for the perspective. I’m going to go run through the hedge.

  12. Instead of letting people just “unsubscribe”, I now send a confirmation e-mail to each explaining what they are opting out of. I increased my e-mailings to one a week instead of one a month and got a huge increase in weekly sales. I’m tweeting ten times a day but haven’t tried ten times an hour yet. Thanks JBT for the great information above.

    • That’s ballsy! How do people react?

      • I’ve seen that type of e-mail. Big Fish Games does that several times: on the page where you go to cancel your membership, after you cancel your membership, and they send a confirmation e-mail afterwards.

        Plus, there’s a link in the confirmation e-mail that let’s you sign up again if you choose to..

        I did cancel BigFish, but as long as I’m not paying, and it’s not from a spammy Im’er, I usually end of staying.

  13. Awesome post. Perfectionism is a really killer for the entrepreneurial spirit. I have personally met many entrepreneurs who admit that they could have achieved a lot more growth in business if they had been a bit more adventurous in the decision making.

  14. AWESOME, AWESOME! I call it the cookie cutter syndrome but yes, too many people are blindly following what their mentor or someone successful is doing.

    So glad to hear I’m not alone on speaking out against this blind spot that many well-meaning people fall into simply trying to find the key to success.

    Melanie Benson Strick
    America’s Leading Authority on Optimum Performance

  15. Yes Yes Yes, it really shows how important it is for us to become masterful at questioning.
    Is this working?,
    What else can I do or be?
    What does this situation require of me right now?
    The best way of creating change is to ask a big question of yourself.
    Thank you for the reminder.

  16. To borrow a phrase about writing rules from the editing world, “Business follows rules; it doesn’t follow orders.”

  17. I’m not the biggest fan of the show, but the introduction to the HBO (?) show of “Weeds” had this great image of a cookie cutter neighborhood and at the same time with everybody pulling out to work in the white Land Rovers. Melanie’s response made me think of it.
    I’m trying to find that line between learning the rules, and then figuring which ones and when to follow them.

  18. You are right Johnny, Commonly people were talking about the reasons for why they didnt start their business.
    Nothing is essential to start a business except the time and concentration (focus) on one particular thing.
    As per my opinion any reason other then these two are not acceptable for delaying to start the business.

    Thanks

  19. Great suggestions! There’s a difference between blindly following the crowd and learning from the crowd. Af first, it’s important to mimic others, but once you understand the lay of the land, you must get creative in order to succeed.

    It’s like playing a musical instrument–first you learn to play it, and then you write songs. The odd thing is that some folks are able to write songs when they know only three chords. The need to learn first is still real, but some people are able to get creative far faster than others. Thanks for the insights!

  20. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this article. I like the truth in it – and the way it is wrapped. I have always been a fan of learning the rules and then breaking them. That’s why the tagline of my business as a motivational speaker is “Stand Up and Stick Out….Because Nobody Notices Normal.” So I’ve already seen the benefits of not blending in.

    Being different gets me business. I can’t just put a propeller on my head and think that it’s different, so I will get booked. It has to be different that has VALUE and is RELEVANT. But put together all of these and you are a meeting planner’s dream in the speaking business. I would venture to guess the theory holds true to other areas of life and business as well.

    And, yeah, sometimes the idea doesn’t work. And sometimes we fall flat on our faces. But it’s a necessary, valuable part of the process. How else would we know if we don’t try?

    Thanks for the affirmation that being the outcast isn’t so bad now that I’ve grown up and grown into it.

  21. I liked this article until I read about the city guy stuck with the city job and the city house (hits too close to home for me).

    What’s next? Are you gonna say my gadget lust is taking up too much time and material objects will never fill the void left by my unrealized creative dreams?

    You’d better not or I’ll stop buying shiny new things and lose all my “friends” at the Apple store.

    Okay, joking aside, my favorite takeaway from this piece is that you should NOT feel bad because you haven’t followed all the “rules” in business.

    This is a lesson that a lot of people regularly forget (including me).

    Thank you for the reminder and sign me up for that webinar!

  22. There is a saying in the screenwriting industry, in regards to screenplay structure, etc

    it goes ” You can bend the rules as much as you want, just as long as you don’t break them”!

    I think that sums up the whole thing.

    It can become difficult for those just starting out, or even the more intermediate people.

    On the one hand we are inundated with advice from all sides, which basically says you need to adhere to this, that and the other, if you wish to succeed online(conformity ).
    Then n the same breath, you are expected to become a trail blazer, burn down all the bridges and make a name for your self(Non conformity)
    This is probably part of the reason most blogs(and I imagine websites, also) quit after 3 months.

    If I followed all the advice I have read that is supposedly the “Way to Success” I would somehow need to find a way to expand time to create more hours in a day.

  23. I’ve overcome many who are stuck by rules, thinking that they can’t do it unless they fulfill certain self-perceived rules. Once a classmate asked me how did I started becoming a trainer. I told her, “I just decide and start.”

    Her response, “Don’t you need any certification?” I asked, “Why do you need certificate to start training?”
    She said, “I came to this class so that I can get certificate to e a trainer.” When I attend that class, I was already 7 years in training industry. I can say, I broke some rules here.