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Breaking the rules

Breaking the rules

I was standing on the corner waiting for a light to change the other day when out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone start walking across the street against the red light. As he was nearly halfway across the intersection, someone else stepped off the curb to follow, and as you can imagine, everyone soon followed. I thought to myself, “This is the way of the world.” Sometimes we call it leadership, other times it signals an entrepreneurial spirit of going against the rules and when caught and ticketed, it’s simply bad luck. Independence is easy to notice, and as soon as one person, idea or company is successful, others are soon to follow, like the people following the leader across the street. Pretty soon, though, this “visionary idea” becomes a crowded, indistinguishable field. 
 
At the end of the day, rule breaking is at the heart of every entrepreneur. You cannot — absolutely cannot — innovate without breaking some rule. New ideas are hard to see because most of us are programmed to not break rules or color outside the lines. To look at a problem from outside the box, to allow people within your organization to challenge authority and suggest new standards or methods, I know, can be chaotic. But, the organizations that have that resilient ability to grow with new ideas thrive. We have seen this over and over: Virgin Air, Apple and Nike all have repackaged and re-bundled products to redefine the base product they sell and expand on it, change it and sell it to us over and over again. In doing so, they have defined a new place for products that others sell only as commodities.
 
When I was a boy, there were really only three TV stations, and when new cars came out there were only a few different models to choose from — usually low, medium and high. Today there are countless TV stations and seemingly countless models of cars. People have been trained in the last 50 years to have it their way, and hotels need to take this into account. In the hotel world, first boutique hotels grabbed share from the big brands, then within the boutique niche emerged tighter niches that were catering to special niches within niches.  
 
If you are a venerable old-school brand, this does not mean you cannot innovate; it means you really have to think about what it means to serve your guests, and most importantly, you have to think about the guests you are missing at the margin and what it is they want. Beware of not understanding your guest. Beware of believing that what you were doing last year is good enough this year. Beware of rules that bind you to a slow erosion of guest counts. Following almost never works; if it is being done then it is already too late. Look out to the next step — just don’t get a ticket!
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