Tuesday, February 8, 2022

How To Succeed In Business Trying Really Hard

I just stumbled upon something I wrote about 15 years ago--at least that was when it was saved last. I thought I would share it here. Many of these were things I learned and many of them the hard way in my first job as a financial analyst at the Oklahoma Publishing Company (OPUBCO) where The Oklahoman newspaper was the flagship product.

Some of these have a touch of Grayson Moorhead Securities to them, but you don't have to be that cynical. I have witnessed many times people roll their eyes at advice like this only to then make the very mistakes these are addressing.

How to Succeed in Business Trying Really Hard

  1. Be a solution provider. While it is important to have the intellect and experience to identify problems, the ability to create and the courage to suggest solutions is a higher skill.
  2. Make conscious efforts to avoid digressions into the minutia. Keep communications only at the greatest level of detail necessary for meaningful ideas.
  3. On the other hand, don’t hesitate to consider the depth of an issue. Neglecting the full implications of the subject can easily lead to poor decisions.
  4. Balance work and rest in the following manner. If you find yourself looking for excuses to take breaks often or find yourself taking long breaks and feel that you can’t focus on the work at hand, make strides to commit yourself to the work. In this case you are resisting the desire to avoid the work. However, if you find yourself unable to break away from the endeavor despite having toiled for a considerable period, force yourself to step away. In this case you are resisting the desire to trade quality for completion. The result could be an eventual disappointment and may require more work to correct. A well-placed retreat can pay dividends in the form of a new perspective and fresh ideas.
  5. Don’t burn undeveloped bridges. It is easy to see existent relationships you would like to preserve. It is much harder yet still vital to long-term success that you develop and nurture relationships that you cannot yet foresee.
  6. Don’t build a house in which no one will live. Don’t expend resources toward a goal with high theoretical promise but little practical use.
  7. Don’t confuse clich├ęs with sound arguments.
  8. Don’t be a Monday-morning quarterback on Sunday afternoon. The time for second guessing is after the fact not during the game. Corollary: Save your nostalgia for Sunday morning brunch. Make today the good old days.
  9. Take on the mentality of a librarian rather than a firefighter. Where a fireman does a heroic task in a place he has probably never been before doing the work of saving what he can only to leave once the need is extinguished, a librarian begins work everyday doing the same thing as the day before. A fireman eliminates the need for his services. The librarian creates and enables those needs. Business success is built with librarians not firefighters.
  10. Idolize the objective not the process.
  11. Continually work to find the right price. Consider the two major risks a salesperson runs. Both involve leaving money on the table. The first is the risk of selling too few for too much—a price point that is excessively high results in unnecessarily low sales volume and hence revenue. The second is the risk of selling too many for too little—a price point that is unnecessarily low results as well and obviously in unnecessarily low sales revenue. This all seems and is (or should be) obvious. Yet time and again businesses opportunities fail on the basic matter of getting price right including adjusting to new realities.
  12. Don’t try to live in fantasy land. Good business decisions are bounded by practicality. However, don’t let this go so far as to stop trying things that will fail. Just put practical limits on the extent of the possible failures. Success is built on a thousand small failures. Complete failure comes from one or two unbearable risks that go bad.
  13. Understand the Law of Categorical Gravity: Firms within the same industry or complementary industries tend to locate near one another in time and space. And as they get closer and closer they are attracted to one another with greater and greater force. In this way they act as immediate substitutes but long-term complements.
  14. Don’t continue to bear burdens after they have been lifted: the analogue here is carry-over heat. When you cook a large rib roast, you might want to hit a target internal temperature of 140 degrees. If you wait for a probing thermometer to register 140 degrees before removing the rib roast from the heat, you will end up way past your target temperature. The reason is carry-over heat. After you remove the roast from the oven, radiation from heat stored in the outer layers of mass as well as from the cooking vessel will continue to cook the roast and can drive the core temperature up another 10-15 degrees. Similarly, we can let stress build in our systems even after the stress-causing burden has been removed or corrected. This is as much about internal morale as it is marketing.
  15. Don’t bear burdens by proxy. Is this issue your burden, or is it a colleague’s?
  16. You can’t live at the end of a one-way street: you must be consistent in your principles and actions. It is the only way to earn and keep the respect of your peers, followers, leaders, and rivals.
  17. Learn to ask hard questions and to accept hard answers.
  18. In business writing conclusions and recommendations should be reasonably obvious. A good test is: if removed entirely, could a reasonable reader surmise and write themselves in essence the same conclusion section that you yourself have written albeit hopefully more fluently.
  19. Set aside time to meditate on the big picture. For any major project or decision, take some time to contemplate how the possible alternatives and the potential outcomes fit together with your overall goals. Consider the situation from a strategic viewpoint as many good tactical decisions have poor strategic results.
  20. At the time when an issue arises, speak up sooner rather than later, and if not then, then later rather than never at all. Corollary: Speak in a measured manner and to the correct audience.
  21. In an important respect problems and strengths have quite opposite characteristics. While it is easy to create problems, properly identifying them is a much finer skill. Conversely, the ability to create and foster strengths is always dear, but the knack for recognizing them is a common trait. The highest talent is the combined skill of determining the true problem and calling upon the proper strength as a solution.
  22. A poor reaction to a mistake makes for a worse mistake.
  23. The necessity of scrutinizing one’s own work is directly proportional to the work’s exposure and purpose.
  24. Update! Don’t hesitate to reevaluate your position by modifying or even reversing if new information truly warrants that new appraisal.
  25. Manage your image. No one else will manage it for you. In fact, others will create a caricature of your image—sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.
  26. Try to distinguish yourself through your work (not your self-promotion) so as to be seen as an irreplaceable talent rather than a commodity.
  27. Know how to argue, when to argue, and when to agree. Effective, successful teams argue thoroughly, critically, intelligently, passionately, and professionally, but they also know when and how to present a unified front.
  28. Do not solve problems before they are problems. You cannot be a hypothetical firefighter.
  29. You get what you measure. Corollary: Your value to the firm is how you are measured.
  30. Don’t get married to inconsequential ideas. Don’t fight for worthless victories. You only get so much combat equity.
  31. Consider if a fantastic goal deemed too impractical if not “impossible” is because you cannot imagine living there or cannot yet see getting there. Fortunes are made solving the latter problem while fortunes are lost chasing the former.
  32. Completion is possible. Perfection is not.
  33. Employers can mitigate ineptitude much easier than carelessness.
  34. In business you are either surfing or drowning.
  35. Know the source of your competitive threat. In the races we run sometimes we are overtaken from behind; other times the path we have chosen simply runs out with us left exasperated staring at a dead end.
  36. The two fundamental questions in business are: What does the customer demand? How can my firm be the supplier? (i.e., What do you want? How can I deliver it?)
  37. Don’t be afraid to be skeptical of a business practice, but don’t be surprised if there is a rational explanation for it.
  38. It isn’t about where you have been; it’s about where you are going.
  39. If you don’t know the cost of the marginal unit, you’re better off not “knowing” anything about cost at all. Knowing other bits of data like total cost, average cost, an example of cost, will lead to very poor decision making quite often. Those figures will deceive as much as enlighten—they anchor us to irrelevant comparisons.
  40. Strategy is not the sum of tactics; strategy must be a whole unto itself; you cannot back your way into a good vision.
  41. The four essentials of negotiation are: know what you want, understand what you can give, determine what you can take, be willing to walk away.
  42. Just because you need more doesn’t mean you can get more: a revenue shortfall of goal or forecast/budget does not create a selling opportunity. Remember: Update!
  43. Beware following “Best Practices”. Sometimes you are following a leader; sometimes you are following the proverbial lemming who happens to be in front of you.
  44. A business decision’s probability of success is only partly dependent upon the ability of the decision maker. The best business leader in the world couldn’t have saved the buggy whip industry from the approaching avalanche that was the automobile.

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