Andrew Penny, April 25 2023

Breaking the Rules

Creating an Unfair Advantage

Listening to a recent ‘Under the Influence’ podcast, I learned some fascinating things about Roger Nielson. Many of you know him as a coach with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators but before that he was breaking the rules in the OHA. And how! 

Well, actually, not really breaking the rules but playing the game in a way that was so radically different that the rules were changed to remove his unfair advantage. 

Consider Roger Neilson and the penalty shot rule. 

When penalty shot is awarded, the offended team gets essentially a free shot on goal with only the goalie there to try and stop it.  Roger read the rules; he read them very closely and he thought waaay outside the box.  

It turns out that the rules didn’t say the defending player had to be a goalie. And so, instead of a goalie, he put a defenseman on the ice. A nimble defenseman, unencumbered by heavy protective equipment, can rush towards the player taking the penalty shot and disrupt the play.  This was much more effective strategy than having the goalie simply wait for the shot.  (Unfortunately for Roger, the OHA decided that wasn’t entertaining enough and changed the rules – the NHL followed soon thereafter). 

Every industry I have advised has a certain way of doing things, not actually rules - but accepted practice. This practice gets handed down from generation to generation and change is incremental - no drama. This status quo approach needs two things to shift it; insight to see what others can’t (or won’t) and, the chutzpa to be different and actually do it.

When entering a new market or new geography, normal practice is to try and figure out how that market works and then figure out how to beat the incumbents at their game. The game they are very good at, the game they have been playing for years. Not a great approach IMHO. 

When I approach a market, I bring dozens of models from other markets, different ways of creating awareness, engaging prospects, and closing business. Ideas that are not simply based on the way it’s always been done.  We are at a stage in time now where the opportunities to think differently have never been greater.  

What rules, conventions, accepted practices are you following in your business?  Are you ready to think different?  

Is it time to pull the goalie?  


Written by

Andrew Penny


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