Charles (Red) Scott was a celebrated American CEO and a leading business coach. Towards the end of his career Scott compiled a list of 36 rules or ‘Business Cardinals’ reflecting his philosophy on how to succeed in a competitive business world.

Experience has taught me that we ignore Red Scott’s rules at our peril.

Before we come to the full list, I’d like to explain rule 34 – for me, it’s the one that matters most.

Rule 34 – Bet on a brown rat, not a white rat

The story goes, that in a distant era, when experimenting on animals was acceptable a team of scientists decided to see what would happen if you tied a group of white rats and brown rats by the leg and placed their water dish just out of reach. To the scientist’s surprise, all the white rats died and all the brown rats chewed their own leg off to get the water.

I’ve Googled this topic extensively and have never found the research paper so I suspect the story is apocryphal.

Still, the message is a powerful metaphor for the importance selecting high performers, people who are hungry to succeed.

When I recruit consultants for our business, one of the things I literally, ask myself is, ‘Is this a brown rat?’ In the highly competitive business environment we all operate in today, there is no room for people of average ability and even less room for people of average motivation.

In the future world of work, average is over.

In fact, Tyler Cowan wrote an entire book on this topic entitled, Average is Over. Cowan’s message was clear, the best way to counter the threat that technology will take your job is to be excellent at what you do. Technology will replace many jobs in the future but there will always be a place for people who are masters of their craft.

So when you’re selecting staff for your team, it’s useful to ask yourself if you think this person is a brown or a white rat? Are they a high performer or will they be content with average?

Personally, I wouldn’t invest in a business which is prepared to accept average performers anymore. When you’ve got people like John Chambers, the President of Cisco predicting that ‘Forty percent of businesses won’t exist in ten years’ time, they just don’t know it’, you realise that we’ve all got to raise the bar on what levels of performance are necessary, if we are to survive and prosper in future.

The future belongs to ‘brown rats’ and the businesses fortunate enough to attract them.

This sounds daunting as I write it. I get it – I feel it just as much as you do but the prospect of being replaced by a robot isn’t much fun either.

F.O.B.O or the fear of becoming obsolete is now the top concern of employees according to a recent study by Oxford Economics.  There’s not much point in worrying about becoming obsolete if we aren’t prepared to do something to prevent it.

The best response I know is to focus on becoming a brown rat. Understand what excellence in your role looks like and do the hard work it takes to get there. Do that and someone will always be willing to employ you.

Here’s the full list of Red Scott’s rules. See which ones resonate for you.

  1. Don’t run out of cash – no matter what
  2. No surprises – give me fair warning
  3. Create basic values – not paper earnings
  4. Keep your eggs in at least 5 baskets
  5. The boss should be the head salesman
  6. Never get organized by a trade union
  7. Always tell the bad news first – never last
  8. Never compromise quality for price
  9. Concentrate on the customer – not the brick and mortar
  10. Don’t confuse brightness with judgment
  11. Plan strategy and set objectives before fixing structure
  12. Study the environment – things you can’t control
  13. Before making a ‘function’ manager a CEO, first put him/her over a profit centre
  14. Understand what really makes a company tick
  15. Be careful of ‘quick-fix’ or ‘part-time’ managers
  16. ‘About right’ now is better than ‘exactly wrong’ later
  17. Creativity is great – but not in accounting
  18. Only one big risk and/or ‘life change’ at a time
  19. Always play ‘what if’
  20. A professional manager is someone who gets the job done
  21. Hire smart rather than manage tough
  22. Don’t put a new person (to me) into a new job (to him/her)
  23. Do the “right thing” rather than ‘things right’
  24. Do 1st things 1st and 2nd things never
  25. Bet on a person – not a product, plant or idea
  26. Beware of making the successful ‘task achiever’ a manager
  27. Invest in businesses with a low cost of exit
  28. Invest your time with winners… not losers
  29. Be careful – a little success can create a whole lot of overhead
  30. To understand a company, spend time with its customers
  31. The boss is responsible for the momentum
  32. ‘I WILL’ beats IQ – every time!
  33. Hire for attitude – train for skills
  34. Bet on a brown rat – not a white rat
  35. 87% of Executive failures are due to personality
  36. Light travels faster than sound. That is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

Rob Davidson is the Founder and Director of Growth at Davidson.