In my work as an executive coach I typically see two kinds of leaders: those who think the rules exist to help them and those who believe the rules exist to constrain them. (Spoiler alert: There are way more in the latter category.)
How successful would you be if there weren’t any rules holding you back? What if I told you there aren’t any?
We like to blame the rules for holding us back, when in reality the only thing holding us back is . . . us.
Perhaps we’d be better off if we simply had a better understanding of the rules and how to use their loopholes to our advantage. Thinking we have to blindly follow rules leads to tunnel vision, when in reality there are other options outside the proverbial tunnel.
I believe that our best ideas will always come from outside our industry. That’s why I study the world’s top performers in other industries. American touring and session drummer Dusty Saxton is one of those individuals. He is currently on tour with Granger Smith, and while Saxton may be the author of The Rockstar Rulebook, he’s certainly not one to allow “the rules” to hold him back.
I know because Saxton told me all about it, in a personal interview. Make no mistake about it, what he had to say was relevant, because musicians are entrepreneurs, and drummers in particular are akin to freelancers. In short, the parallels between the music industry and entrepreneurship are tremendous.
In 2004, as a drummer in a band in the Waco, Texas, area during his senior year in high school, Saxton recognized the need for a concert venue in his community and decided he was the person to start one.
Obtaining the permits, zoning and licensing needed to open a dance hall proved to be complex and expensive. That didn’t deter Saxton. Knowing that a loophole in the Waco city law allowed music stores to host live music events, he instead sought to open a retail music shop. As a result, he and his friends opened Hero Records, an independent music store.
The rent was $600. a month. Saxton and his classmates, who doubled as his business partners, decided that since Saxton was the only one 17 years old, he should be the person to sign the building lease. Saxton explained that, “Our logic was that if anything went wrong, the contract would be void because it was signed by a minor.”
With the minor problem (pun intended) of a physical location overcome, inventory was the next challenge. Unable to prepay the $2,500 in inventory needed, Saxton was able to find and persuade a CD wholesaler to provide him with inventory on credit. He then sent the wholesaler ten $250 checks.
Saxton negotiating with the vendor to let him cash one check at a time, as Hero Records sold another $250 worth of inventory. To house their newfound inventory, the musicians utilized old shelving that big-box retailers were throwing away. Talk about bootstrapping!
Given their geography and the unique niche they filled, the musicians’ store enjoyed quick success and became a destination tour stop for bands en route from Dallas to Austin, and vice versa. Artists that played at the renowned SXSW conference also performed at Hero Records.
Fast-forward a few years: Saxton eventually stepped away from the record store business to focus on his career goal to be a touring drummer full-time. He cites his experience in creating Hero Records “within, yet around, the rules” as instrumental in proving to himself that his long-term career goal was valid.
In fact, he reasoned, becoming a touring drummer was achievable if he brought the same approach to this pursuit as he had to Hero Records. Mission accomplished on both fronts.
Saxton’s experience should serve as a shining example of the notion that there aren’t nearly as many rules holding you back as you may think, and that as entrepreneurs and freelancers, our rules truly are different from everyone else’s. To become the rock star of your industry in 2017, you need to create a vision where you see things not as they are but as they can become. To make that happen, turn the rules that bind you into a competitive advantage. Today, more than ever, you can’t afford to fit in, wait your turn or blindly follow the path others have already taken. That path is too crowded, time-consuming and expensive.
To sum up: Saxton, in our interview, shared his greatest takeaway from his early venture in entrepreneurship: “Just because nobody is doing something, we often assume there is a rule prohibiting it, and often upon closer examination in reality there isn’t.”
There’s a powerful and revealing lesson for every leader in that nugget of wisdom, and Saxton is living proof of his message. False assumptions of “rules” are often where great ideas go to die. It’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission. Just ask Uber, Spotify, Airbnb — or Saxton. They all marched to the beat of their own drum and found a significant competitive advantage in the process. What industry rule can you turn upside down and utilize to your advantage in 2017?