We are taught that the way to win is to play by the rules of the system, but the real way to win is to beat the system.
Last week’s blog reviewed Donald Trump’s strategy in his campaign for president. Trump is not one to give credit to others, but it is pretty obvious that he has read my book, Cheat To Win, and taken its anti-establishment philosophy to heart.
Trump understands that there are two ways to win: Play by the rules of the established system and hope for the best or take charge and beat the system. Trump could see no value in joining the crowd of 15 other Republican candidates attempting to gain the nomination by playing it politically safe and kowtowing to the establishment. He sees his only chance to win (or at least to get free publicity for his brand) is to challenge the system. And he has done so with rewarding vengeance.
The Republican Party has reacted to Trump’s challenges in typical establishment fashion. The Party mucky mucks and most of those seeking the nomination have vigorously attacked Trump. But note, they are not saying his bombastic screeches are wrong —only that he is wrong for voicing them. And so far, these attacks have only served to give him more publicity and credibility.
What Works is Right
It’s revealing that the more vitriolic are the attacks launched by the establishment against Trump, the higher he rises in the polls. As of this past weekend Trump was not only leading in all polls, but was running circles around those playing by the system. Even in Florida Trump is running well ahead of home state candidates Bush and Rubio. It’s evident that Trump is validating one of the strategies to beat the system listed in last week’s blog: He has identified a valid weakness in the establishment that has gone unrecognized and unacknowledged. Those running as established candidates are unable or unwilling to debate – let alone offer platforms to solve – the core issues that are resonating with voters, i.e. illegal immigration and the widening income gulf between the wealthy and all the rest of us.
There is another interesting phenomenon happening. Some of the establishment candidates have begun to act like mini-Trumps by saying and doing outrageous things. This is clear evidence that Trump’s strategy of attacking the establishment is working. Ted Cruz went on the floor of the Senate, knowing full well that it was against all the establishment stands for, and publicly called Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell “a liar.” Mike Huckabee publicly compared the proposed Iran deal with the Holocaust by saying the agreement will “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Rand Paul released a video of him taking a chainsaw to the tax code. Another candidate, Lindsey Graham released a video showing him destroying a number of cell phones. (Trump had given out Graham’s private cell number.)
When was the last time you saw supposedly serious candidates for president acting in this manner? I rest my case. There is only one word to describe their motivation – TRUMP. These guys were not gaining any traction or publicity as established candidates so in reaction to Trump’s success, they have decided to copy him.
I am still of the opinion that the likelihood of Trump securing the Republican nomination is remote, (and concerned that if he did, he might actually get elected) but his chances of success are much greater than if he had played by the rules of the system— which would have been, shall we say, nada.
Making Our Own Choice to Accept the System or Beat It
Not many of us are ever going to run for president, but any of us who desire to be successful will be faced with the decision to seek our success within the system or to find it by beating the system. Based on personal experience I am convinced that there is a better chance to achieve success is by challenging the establishment than there is to submit to it. Seeking my own brand of success I was faced with this decision: Play by the rules of the system and hope that success comes my way or challenge the system and find success my way.
In 1980, I was named president and CEO of ITT Life Insurance Company. ITT Life was part of the ITT conglomerate, but owned directly by The Hartford, a company that was the very embodiment of the establishment. ITT Life was a small company in the backwater of the insurance industry. It sold some life insurance, but clung to its existence by selling niche products such as credit and cancer insurance and nursing home coverage. As a child of the establishment, my first inclination was to build the company by working within the system. But I soon discovered that the system was heavily stacked in favor of the establishment companies. It was evident there was little chance of success for ITT Life by scrounging for crumbs left by the big companies.
I decided that the only way to make ITT Life a winner was to beat the system. With this in mind, theITT Life marketing strategy was to attack at the very heart of the insurance establishment. The way that was done was to go after the Holy Grail of the life insurance industry – whole life insurance. What the industry referred to as “permanent cash value life insurance” had been the mainstay and most profitable product of the insurance industry for almost a century. Whole life insurance was at the core of the very existence of the life insurance industry.
The only problem was that by the latter stages of the 20th century, whole life had become outmoded and obsolete. And the consumer signaled that the product had begun to outlive its usefulness by buying less and less of it. There were a lot of obvious reasons why whole life was dying, but those in the establishment either did not recognize the problem or if they did, they wanted to ignore it.
This failure to recognize or respond to this weakness created an opportunity to beat the system that “MacTrump” was happy to take advantage of. We developed a marketing strategy to take on the system by attacking its most cherished and important product. It started with a press conference in which it was announced that because whole life had become outmoded and obsolete, ITT Life would longer offer the product. It was not as big a deal as it seemed, because we didn’t sell much of it anyway, but it was a great way to turn a weakness into a strength.
ITT Life began to immediately benefit from this announcement as it led to news stories in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USAToday reporting that an insurance company was going to stop selling the industry’s most profitable product, because it was no longer viable. This announcement generated more free publicity and recognition than ITT Life had ever received.
Of course the establishment of the insurance industry went bananas. Rather than just ignoring this peanut-sized company – that would have been the best strategy – the system lashed out at me with vitriolic attacks and condemnation; some companies even ran full-page newspaper ads defensively protesting the value of whole life. I was banned from membership in insurance organizations and one executive referred to me as the “anti-Christ” of the insurance industry.
I was certainly not the first to point out the weaknesses of a century-old product, but I was the first from within the industry establishment – and the president of a life insurance company at that – to publicly attack whole life. The fact that I had been in the insurance industry for 20 years, climbing the ladder from agent to CEO, gave me “standing” to make the charge. It was this credibility on insurance matters that so angered the establishment. The members of the establishment never took the position that what I said was wrong, but only that I was wrong for saying it. And the more the insurance establishment attacked me and ITT Life, the more visibility and credibility we had with the consumer and the media. This came about because what we said about whole life was true and could not be refuted by the establishment.
But we did not make the mistake of just illuminating the problems of a once good product gone bad, we introduced a viable alternative to whole life called Universal Life. Once again the leading establishment companies gave publicity and credibility to ITT Life by trying to convince state insurance regulators to declare this new product illegal. The establishment’s strategy for defending whole life was like a runner trying to win the race by shooting the other runners.
I was able to successfully take on the establishment and spur the growth of ITT Life by adhering to four principles needed to beat the system:
- Make sure there is truth to the attacks on the establishment.
- Have “standing” within the establishment that gives credibility to the attack.
- Offer a viable alternative to the problem exposed.
- Stick to your guns and don’t be cowered by attacks from the establishment.
There is much more to this story, but the bottom line is that by being willing to take on the system and beat it, a small, unknown company was able to battle on equal terms with the establishment companies and more often than not, win. ITT Life began a rapid growth spurt attracting thousands of agents to sell the new product, significantly increasing sales and profits. Even more than that, when ITT Life beat the system it not only achieved success, it changed the system forever.