Sunday, April 3, 2011

Five Big Fat Business Lies

There may be 50 big, fat business lies floating around the Web, but something happened the other day that encouraged me to jot down the first five that came to mind. 

Number 1 Big Fat Business Lie: There are no dumb questions.

I’m sorry to say that there very much are dumb questions, and if you ask one in front of people you are trying to impress, they will think you asked a dumb question.  If you keep it up they will think you are dumb.

I have seen a manager, in an attempt to encourage give-and-take at a meeting, announce that there were no dumb questions.  Then I heard someone ask a dumb question.  Then I saw some people wince and a few others smirk.  The manager had lied.

My correction to this nugget of wisdom is simple: Don’t ask dumb questions.

Number 2 Big Fat Business Lie: Only bring me a problem if you also bring me a solution.

I would discourage you ever saying this, especially if you have, say, 10 or 20 years experience and you’re addressing someone with, say, one year experience.  This advice is a recipe for disaster.

My revised advice to give a direct report: Solve all the problems you feel comfortable solving on your own, but bring me the ones you can’t solve and we’ll work on them together.

Number 3 Big Fat Business Lie: Fail often in order to succeed sooner.
Try this on an assembly line.  Maybe cooking fries at McDonald's.  How about preparing monthly financials?  The truth is, if you fail often you will not have a job.  There are such things as smart failures which businesses will tolerate because they move things ahead.  But failing often?

I think not.

The big lie really comes from Silicon Valley, that failure is somehow a badge of honor.  If you haven’t failed you haven’t been on the bleeding edge of anything exciting.  Oy.  What they mean to say is that good entrepreneurs (who are often on the edge of something exciting) are sometimes going to fail, and they cannot let it wipe them out.  Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and all that.   But truly, spending three or four years of your life to have nothing but scars to show,  and destroying  $10M or $50M or $150M of someone else’s capital, cannot possibly be a badge of honor.

Think of A.G. Lafley, the former CEO of P&G, who told the Harvard Business Review this month that he thinks of his failures as gifts.  

Only people who are wildly successful can talk trash like this.  (As you know, A.G. Lafley has been wildly successful.)

Coming soon in the HBR: Warren Buffet considers all his losing investments to be blessings from heaven.

Take my advice on this piece of misguided wisdom: Fail as little as you must and succeed as often as you can.

Which turns out to be common sense and not something, hopefully, that you’ll have to put on a motivational poster in your office.

Number 4 Big Fat Business Lie: This isn't really a company function.

Right.  Go ahead and put that lampshade on your head.

Some things can’t be erased from your co-worker’s memories, including that time you over-imbibed after work and didn’t make it to the rest room in time.  That wasn’t really a company function, after all.  And that picture your friend posted to Facebook.  There was nobody from the office within 20 miles when that shot was taken.

My advice: If you are employed and have two feet outside your domicile, consider it a company function.  If you’re on Facebook and you don’t have the flaps down and your tray table in the upright and locked position, it doesn’t matter where your feet are.  It’s a company function--and you’re the star attraction.

Number 5 Big Fat Business Lie: Every problem is an opportunity.

Some are, and it’s not a bad idea to approach them all that way.  To start.  But the truth is, some problems are just unwelcome, aggravating, distracting problems.  And the faster you can figure those out, the better chance you have of not wasting your time trying to make lemon meringue pie.

My advice: Fix problems quickly.  Exploit opportunities fully.  The two don’t really look that much alike, so don’t confuse them.

There you are.  Five big fat business lies.  Any questions? 

Remember, there are no dumb ones.