Do Your Rules Still Make Sense?

(Listen to this post, here.)

They’re building a new house across the street from us.

Not sort of across the street. I mean directly across.

So close that you could stand on my front step and, with a really good heave, toss a chicken leg into the hole where they just poured the foundation (not that I’ve ever done this more than twice).

And so as you might imagine, there are often a number of construction-type vehicles around. Such was the case yesterday afternoon when I left home to drive back to my office.

There was a huge dump truck filled with gravel parked out on the road. Next to it, moving back and forth as it made each trip, was an even bigger excavator on tank treads picking up scoops of gravel and dropping them into the foundation.

It was very noisy and very cramped out on the street. I knew I had to be careful as I backed out of the garage.

So I went slowly, eventually getting past the commotion and heading on my way.

I hadn’t gone more than fifty feet when I thought, “Wow, it’s amazing how noisy it still is.”

I kept driving but something didn’t seem quite right. So I stopped. Uh oh … so did the noise.

crushed box
I got out, walked around back, and saw a big box of food supplies my wife had ordered stuck beneath the car.

I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but as far as I can tell, the box must have been sitting outside the garage behind my car. I backed over it, pulled it down the driveway, and dragged it up the street with me (fortunately, we like our eggs scrambled).

It did leave me wondering, though: Why did it take me so long to notice, let alone do anything about, such a loud and unusual noise?

Easy. Because I had already accounted for the presence of loud and unusual noises coming from the construction site.

Once I saw those big trucks in front of my house, I stopped thinking. Any noise I heard from that point on was subconsciously classified as “construction-related.”

We do this kind of thing all the time, in our lives in general and in our businesses in particular.

We categorize things or make decisions – about the way we work, the services we offer, the people we work with, whatever – and then we follow them blindly, sometimes for years.

That adds a certain efficiency, of course. But it also keeps us in a narrow lane – a lane that only gets narrower over time.

Here, for example, are three “rules” for my business that I made up long ago and have only recently begun to question and, in some cases, modify:

  1. I don’t collaborate. After spending years working in a huge company where every decision required endless meetings and approval, I made the conscious decision when I started my company to work alone. No compromise, no meetings, no guy who keeps offering to “play Devil’s advocate.”It’s served me well for the most part, but it also means I’ve turned down plenty of opportunities to work on interesting projects with terrific people.
  1. I bill flat fee for everything. There are many advantages to this approach; I’ve been writing and speaking about it for years.But it also means that I’ve had to walk away from people and projects that for whatever reason, don’t fit neatly into a package.
  1. I only work with professional service firms and individuals. Coaches, consultants, financial planners, recruiters, trainers, etc. – people who sell themselves as opposed to things.It may have made sense when I began, but today, I’m not so sure. Most of what I focus on applies to any small business. And yet somewhere along the way it became a line I don’t cross.

Those are just three examples. I’m sure I have more – I’m sure you do too. And I don’t mean to suggest that everything (or even most things) you do in your business are misguided.

But I bet that like me, you’ve stopped thinking about many of them – they’re just part of the “construction noise.”

At some point, and particularly if you work alone, it’s easy to fall into the very human trap of “that’s just the way we do it around here.”

So try this: Give some fresh thought to how you work, who you work with, and why. It’s not an easy thing to do, but if your experience is anything like mine, it just may open up some new and exciting doors.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s the furthest you’ve ever thrown a chicken leg? Was it attached to a live chicken? Explain.
  1. Do you order food through the mail too, or is it just us?
  1. What do you do in your business out of habit that may no longer make sense?

Share your comments below!

If you liked this article you’ll love the next one. Click here to sign up for future posts and get a free copy of my report, “11 Business(ish) Books I Recommend to All Professional Service Providers.”

8 thoughts on “Do Your Rules Still Make Sense?

  1. Bob Katz

    Hi Michael,

    Maybe those bulk vitamin supplements you’re using are starting to work?

    The challenge your newsletter poses is that once you’re known by clients for working in certain way (products/services, process, etc.), can you pivot and move to a “blue ocean”? You may understand why you need to change, the questions subsequently asked, are how and what, which may ultimately require buying a bigger box of something…

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Bob! I agree, once you’re known for something it sticks. I was actually thinking more about the limits we place on ourselves, in terms of with whom and how we work.

      And yes, the mountains of vitamins I ingest are the reason behind my massive size.

  2. Jan Gallagher

    1. Does a chicken that had just had its head cut off but was still moving count? In that case, yes, about 2 feet. I frantically pushed it back off me when it flew into me (headless, remember, and spewing blood). I was about 3. It was a traumatic experience.
    2. Not eggs.
    2a. For practical reasons having nothing to do with the headless chicken incident.
    3. “I work with nonprofits, and occasionally a small business kind of happens in.” Well, it’s looking like nonprofits aren’t so interested in what I’m selling any more, while there will be a steady stream of small businesses and solopreneurs who need email newsletters and website copy for, like, forever. I’m working to shift gears.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. I’m freaked out and I wasn’t even there.
      2. We don’t actually buy eggs that way but it made for a good joke.
      3. Good for you!

  3. Ken O'Quinn

    Hi Michael,
    Here are a few thoughts based on things I did for a long time but no longer, or I only do them after careful consideration.

    – Don’t spend money on conferences or on an organization’s monthly meetings if they have not proven to be worthwhile in the past. It’s so easy to be an eternal optimist and think you might meet a good prospect at the next one, but that’s the Willy Loman mindset (Death of a Salesman). If you have tried several times and generated little business from such events, rethink it.

    – Don’t be a guest speaker in another city unless they at least pay your expenses. You might agree to speak pro bono because it’s a great audience and you’re eager for the exposure, but don’t pay your own way.

    – Examine your expenses for marketing, subscriptions, and membership dues. These things become habits. Every year we “re-up” without thinking, how much benefit am I getting? We like to be part of professional organizations that are in our field, but you can still attend meetings, though the fee will be a little higher. You can still reach out to people for help via email. Is the newsletter really worth the membership fee?
    Here’s a tip: You can save a bundle on newspaper subscriptions, including the WS Journal and the Times. You can get access to any U.S. newspaper through your library’s online database for free. Just call your library and ask how to navigate to the newspaper listing.

    Best of luck everyone, and thanks, Michael, for years of great advice.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Terrifically useful, Ken, thank you! On your point about subscriptions and dues that are no longer wanted, I recently opted to have every charge to any of my credits cards texted to me in real time (it’s a free, fairly standard offering). I did it as a security measure, so I would know if my card had been compromised. But I also find it’s a nice reminder when that charge hits month after month for a service I no longer use, to cancel it!

  4. Harold Waisel

    1. I’ve never thrown chicken parts, but I would not be surprised if my great-grandparents did in the old country (wherever that old country is)
    2. I order dog food, does that count?
    3. Your point is fundamental to every business. Is what you’re doing now, even if it’s successful, still the best that you can be doing? It’s obvious when something isn’t working, that you need to change it (see definition of insanity). It’s not so obvious when something is working that you should still change it. My advice is to try to break one of your rules one time and see what happens. Assess the risk and time involved, determine what is the measure of success, and then consider if you should continue.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      1. I’m pretty sure my great-great grandparents were themselves chickens.
      2. Definitely.
      3. I like the idea of breaking rules deliberately to see what happens. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *