I subscribe to a ton of newsletters. Some I scan. Some I read. Some I pay attention to. One I always scan, read, AND pay attention to is a newsletter from Cole Schafer called “Sticky Notes.”

Cole is a copywriter. A good one. And he brings interesting words to my inbox almost 100% of the time. That’s impressive. If you like interesting writing and great storytelling, please subscribe to his newsletter here.

But I digress…

He recently shot out a note that included the following (paraphrased and edited to be SFW – I’m not as brave as Cole):

“Every brand –– whether you’re f&#@^ng Dell or an obscure CBD Portland-based soap maker –– should have a list of “swimming pool rules” they live, work and abide by.

You visit any public swimming pool in America –– which I wouldn’t recommend unless you can swim inside some human-sized condom –– and you’ll find a list of sun-faded rules clinging to the wall by a few rusted-out screws:

* No diving

* No finagling

* No s&^%ting

* No p*&#ing

* No gaping wounds

Your brand’s “pool rules” should be written like rules –– not “core values” –– that you and your people can easily point to and call bulls*&t when they are being broken.”


I remember sitting around the table as a kid and having our normal dinner conversations about our day – all six kids and mom and dad. Inevitably something would come up and my dad (usually) would chime in on an issue and say something like “well, that’s not what we do in this family.” The subtext being there are rules in the family – rules we follow and don’t break. No lying. No cheating. Not stealing. Be kind. If you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything. Sort of our family’s “10 Commandments.” Immutable and unyielding.

Those rules gave us kids the guardrails needed to be good humans.

But too many companies focus on what they will do and spend zero time on what they won’t do. And that is a problem.

When you don’t have “rules” you don’t have guardrails.

Example: If your company’s mission is to provide a return to shareholders – and you don’t have a set of “rules” about how you go about doing that, then there isn’t a reason for employees to be honest (“show me where it says I can’t do that) – ask Wells Fargo about this.

What you say you won’t do is probably more insightful than the list of what you will do. Or even why you do it (sorry Simon Sinek).

Check Yourself, Before You … #iykyk

Revisit your company’s mission and values. How many of them are “we don’t” vs. “we do”?

Create pool rules, as Cole says. Those rules communicate your company’s true character. Both to your customers and your employees.

Now – I’m off to make the bed… cuz one of our rules in this house is we don’t leave the bed unmade after 9:00 am.



I have one rule for clients. Don’t do the same thing as your competitor. What should you do?  Call me to find out