I’m working on a series of articles on things business people can learn from punk rock. This wasn’t the one I planned on publishing first, but something happened last night which illustrates the point too well to pass up.
As I was preparing to leave work, I saw a missed call and voicemail on my phone. Didn’t recognize the number, but checked the voicemail quickly in case it was something important. It kind of was. It was the fraud prevention department from my credit union with some questions about some check card charges.
I was in a hurry to get home because the Flash was crossing over on Supergirl. Oh, yeah, and to see my beautiful fiancee, who wasn’t feeling well. So I put off calling the credit union back until later.
I stopped by a favorite restaurant of ours to pick up dinner. I knew it would be quicker than cooking something up at home, plus Ashley was excited about getting a yummy dinner from there. I put in the order, tried to pay with my check card, and — yeppers — it was declined. I apologized to the cashier, mentioned I’d had a notice from my credit union about some fraudulent activity on my account, and told him I needed to make a quick call.
He was nice about it, said he’d suspend the order, and I stepped away to call my money’s keepers. Turned out my check card number had been used in a restaurant in Russia that afternoon while I was at work, for a very large purchase.
The credit union representative was helpful, explained the steps they’d take to make things right for me. I wasn’t worried about it. I know I’m in good hands with my credit union. But I didn’t have cash on me, at least not enough to pay for dinner. I apologized to the cashier, filled him in briefly about the unfortunate status of my bank account, and let him know I wouldn’t be able to pay for the order. He was understanding, and hoped the rest of my night would be good.
Just as I was starting up the car, considering the dinner options at home, a girl from the restaurant zipped out, excitedly telling me to wait. “We want to give you the food, ” she said with a smile.
“Oh, no, you can’t do that,” I said.
“But it’s already made. It would just go to waste anyway.” She encouraged me further to go back in and get the meal I’d ordered.
As I went in, the manager and cashier were bagging up everything. I told them again they didn’t have to do that, but they insisted. I promised I’d be back as soon as I could to pay for the food, and thanked them a few times for doing such a nice thing.
So here’s the lesson, from experiences like that AND from punk rock:
Don’t let rules get in the way of having a good time.
Historically, that’s what punk is all about, right? Screw the rules, we’ll do it our way! Rebellion is a rock & roll thing, but punk took it up a few notches, rebelling against rock & roll even.
You can’t write a song that matters with only three chords; you can’t have a band with two bass players and no guitar; you have to learn how to play your instruments really well before anyone will take you seriously; you can’t name your band Dead Kennedys… punk rockers proved all that — and more — wrong.
Rebellion With Purpose
Not that you can be a total ass. Not totally. Not and still get positive results.
It’s important to know that sometimes breaking the rules can be exactly what prevents a good time. Don’t follow basic standards, and you might not get booked to play. Show up late, or flake out on a gig, and you won’t get booked again. And, of course, it’s hard to play for an audience if you’re in jail for breaking a serious, criminal rule.
When it comes to being true to your ideals, though, striking a different path can be the best decision. Especially when it comes to setting yourself apart from boring, conformist competition.
Doing something totally different can create excitement. It can create a movement, even.
When straight edge took a stand against the accepted rules of excess for rock and punk, promoting individuality and healthy choices instead of drugs, it spawned a lifestyle that spread across the world.
Thinking of business, Starbucks also spread across the world by going against accepted notions of how much people would pay for coffee, and breaking the traditional rules that hand-crafted beverages couldn’t be quick service, too.
Punks went DIY out of necessity. While the music industry perpetuated a belief that it took thousands of dollars to record, press, and distribute music, punk rockers broke the rules, created their own record labels, and got their stuff out quickly and cheaply. Their music and messages were just as worthy — more so, many would say — as what the public was getting from the corporations. They needed to be heard, so they broke the rules, bypassed the traditional way of doing things, and made it happen.
Breaking rules just to be seen as a badass might get you attention, but if that’s the only reason for acting outside the norm, you’re just a novelty act.
Have a good reason to bend the rules on occasion, though, and you can make legend.
Rules Versus Results
Let’s face it, rules are important. They help ensure consistency and fairness. Dogmatically sticking to a rule just because it’s a rule can hold back progress, though. These days, it can even cause you harm. If you can’t exercise some flexibility, especially when dealing with people, you limit possibilities for positive outcomes.
When small businesses are compared to larger corporations, attentive and personalized customer service is almost always considered a strength of the smaller operations. Why? Because the decision makers are more directly involved with their customers. They’re also closer to their profits and goals.
The best reason to step outside the rules is to maximize results. Why are you in business, anyway? To get results, right? Whether the results you’re working toward are sales, revenue, market share, or productivity, allowing options outside the given rules can help you better realize them.
When an opportunity arises for a deviation in normal procedures, a good question to consider is whether sticking to the rule, in that instance, will move you toward your results, or away from them?
It’s not always easy to know, of course. Using the example of my experience at the restaurant last night, I can’t say what the decision process actually was for the manager to do what he did. Certainly, giving away food seems contrary to the goal of making money. I do know the results, though: strengthened customer loyalty, ensured repeat business, and a reputation as a business which goes beyond expectations.
Of course I also went back and paid for the food once I got cash, so the product and revenue loss was corrected. They’ve also got me sharing the story repeatedly, and using them as an example of outstanding business practices, so free word of mouth marketing — the most powerful kind, experts say — too.
Punk rock is about many things. Sometimes it’s about being a spectacle, standing out from the crowd. Being bold enough to act in ways no one expects, whether you’re a punk or a business, can make you spectacular.