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Andy Swan » “OK, but there are two rules…”

“OK, but there are two rules…”

January 5, 2011 – 12:35 pm

Until recently, Makers Mark has had exactly one product on the shelves since its introduction in 1959.  Their response when asked why only one product?  ”This is the best bourbon.”  But even consumers who agreed demanded variety…something different every once in a while.

The Master Distiller agreed, and persuaded the president, Bill Samuels, Jr,. to at least let him TRY to create a new premium product.

Samuels response:

“OK, but there are two rules:  1. You can’t change the recipe.   2.  You can’t do anything that anyone else has done before.”

With those two options off the table, the only alternative was to invent something completely new, or do nothing at all.  Long story short….the distiller got to thinking, invented an entirely new process at the end of the aging cycle, and now they have a new product, Makers Mark 46.

The buzz in the bourbon world was huge.  The product is a hit.

What Bill Samuels did was force innovation through voluntary restriction.   He specifically restricted his master distiller from doing THE two things that every other company in the world would have done:  Change the recipe slightly or create a premium “single barrel” or longer-aged version.

By not allowing yourself to use all of the tools at your disposal….by not allowing yourself to do the things that normal people do….by not allowing yourself to compete on the features that every other product has….you can force yourself to innovate, differentiate, and create a unique value proposition.

Running a real estate website?  OK….you’re not allowed to show the asking price or address of any home.  Go.

Starting  a pizza place?  OK….no tables or chairs allowed.

New app to compete with runkeeper?   No user inputs allowed.  None.  Just figure out when they are running.

Kick the chair out from under you and I bet you’ll stand taller than ever before (or at least fail faster and try something else!)

Force yourself to innovate through voluntary restriction.


One way to make innovation happen: Add some useful but artificial constraints. Not only does that make the newly-created product special, but it also makes you think about what you're trying to achieve.