The Perils Of Received Wisdom In Business

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It’s not uncommon in the business world to use quotes by great thinkers to inspire yourself and others. There is a certain comfort in speaking the words spoken years ago by philosophers, presidents and prophets and using them to make your point. In the right circumstances an inspirational quote can be extremely beneficial, too. If you want to move minds and bodies to outperform their competition, then a familiar, evocative statement can be effective.

What needs to be remembered is that there is a time and a place for quotes and received wisdom, and a danger can arise when they become more than a line. If you live by received wisdom, it is possible to make mistakes that can be catastrophic for your business – because the simple truth is that there is no quote, no maxim that is universally applicable. Some statements, when applied to business, can actually be directly injurious – and a look at the following statements bears that out…

“The harder you work, the luckier you get”

That’s just not true. Luck is, by definition, a fortunate happenstance behind your control and you can’t magic it into being by spending more time doing what you usually do. In fact, working harder can at times be detrimental to your chances of success, as burnout can leave you unable to produce anything of merit. Those who spend more time at work may have more opportunities to capitalize on luck – but spotting those opportunities and properly maximizing them doesn’t depend on working your fingers to the bone.

“It’s the bigger picture that matters”

Any business needs to have a rounded approach to succeed, and over-focusing on details is, without a doubt, detrimental to the whole. Nonetheless, it’s almost never going to be the case that you can solve acute problems with a broad-brush approach. Some areas will always need more attention. If you don’t put money and effort into getting the best IT support, for example, that will affect the whole business before too long. Streamlining processes is good – but you need to be able to have a selective focus at times.

“We can cross that bridge when we come to it”

Although the above statement about focusing on what’s in front of you is true, it also needs to be understood that it refers to acute issues that need immediate address. Kicking foreseeable problems into the long grass because they’re not “now” problems is a terrible way to work. If you are aware of the existence of a “bridge” up ahead, you’d better at least have the outline of a plan to deal with it. Otherwise you’re just working through an existing bottleneck to put yourself in front of another, which may have become more complex since you last brushed it off. Your present-day solutions can incorporate a strategy for future problems – and they should, if they’re to be in any way effective.

Received wisdom can be fascinating and when properly applied, it can certainly help your business – but it needs to be analyzed just like any other advice, because it does contain some flaws.

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