During my freshman year of high school I played football. I sucked.


I sat the bench for every game and was effectively a human punching bag at practice. I was too skinny and too weak to tackle other players. I couldn’t take them down, no matter how hard I tried. That was until I found the magic of tripping. When I went to make a tackle, if got my feet tangled up with theirs they would go down. It worked like a charm. I could finally make tackles. But there was just one, not-so-little, problem… tripping is illegal.

You see, when it comes to sports there are rules. Rules that all players must abide by, otherwise they will be penalized or removed from the game. Rules are everywhere, not just sports. Laws, unspoken rules, guidelines – are all rules.

We live under so many rules and laws, that we start to believe there are rules for everything – that there are unbreakable rules even when not a single one exists. As a result, many an entrepreneur falls into the trap of believing their industry works the way it does because of rules. They believe their industry has rules that can’t be broken. They are wrong. Successful entrepreneurs know that “breaking” these non-existent rules is in fact the key to success.

Case in point, Tina Pennington and Mandy Williams, better known as Red & Black (hint: their hair color has a little something to do with it), are breaking the established rules of book publishing and marketing. Red & Black set out to bust every rule publishers & authors play by – and through their process created a way that is making their brand stand out. Big time.

After choosing the route of self-publishing Red & Black elected to skip the book distribution juggernauts of Amazon and Barnes & Noble and instead used RR Donnelley to both print and distribute the book. (They did it in 2009. Harper Collins announced a similar arrangement in 2011.) To establish instant credibility, they struck a deal with Neiman Marcus. Crazy, right?!?! Crazy like a fox. Neiman Marcus, which really doesn’t sell books, launched theirs. And now their book, “What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!” was getting lots of attention. The book sitting in the hands of mannequins in the window didn’t hurt either.

Instead of cold calling, or emailing, or snail mailing key influencers who could provide critical guidance, Red & Black wrote one-off press releases. A clever “dummy” press release using their father’s original last name (Weinberg), attempted to get the attention of Bob Weinstein – “Weinberg Sisters Want to Meet Weinstein Brothers.” Guess what? They did.

Instead of focusing on marketing to individuals, when asked to develop and teach a financial literacy program for KIPP Houston High School they stopped all marketing. Now their book is a state-approved textbook, which will result in book sales for years to come. Genius!

So, what’s the lesson? Think backwards! To find where the opportunities are, watch what others are doing and more importantly what they are not doing. Next evaluate your end objectives and goals, and figure out your strategy backwards. Start at the end, work your way back and leverage every single opportunity that the “rule followers” are not following.

Pulling this off does require one key ingredient that Black shared with me. When I asked her, “What is the key to executing a rule breaking strategy?” She responded, “Chutzpah.“

Breaking rules where rules actually exist, gets you nowhere. You’ll get benched (or become a human punching bag.) But where rules don’t exist, your commitment to break the rules is exactly what will bring you success. Get out there and get to breaking the rules. And don’t forget to bring your chutzpah. You’ll need lots of it.

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