Seven Tenets for Business Today

In the last several years I’ve become a sponge for business publications, consuming a half dozen magazines, eight or 10 daily e-newsletters, a handful of youtube videos and a business book or two each month.

Partly, I’m seeking inspiration for stories we might cover in The Business Report, but even more importantly, I searching for selfish reasons: to ferret out advice that will help me develop a competitive advantage, launch a new product, or simply do what I’m doing now better.

My search has taken me to the following, which I define as tenets for succeeding in the new economy.

There is no future for vanilla. This declaration appeared in Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat” six years ago, yet if anything it is truer today than it was then. If you hope to attract consumers who are dealing with a world of outsourcing, budget cuts and $4 a gallon gas, you have to find fresh, creative and more productive ways to operate so you stand out against the competition.

It’s ultimately about people. Curt Hanke, the co-founder of a Wisconsin ad agency, said this in an article about the advertising world, but I think it applies to every business. If you want to be a success these days you darn well better focus on providing special experiences for the people outside your doors (your customers) and the people inside (your employees). Fail in either case and you’re in trouble.

Fortune favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur made this observation when colleagues were ridiculing his discovery of pasteurization as luck. As he suggested, and we all should understand, success is based on research, training and hard work more often than on good fortune or instant inspiration.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. How many of us write off customer complaints as the raving of cranks? That’s a huge mistake, says Bill Gates in the discussion from which this quote came. We business owners need to understand that the most critical complaints offer the greatest insights into our customers’ attitudes and what we need to fix, Gates says. I’ll add to that advice and suggest we not only should accept criticism, we should seek it out by assembling focus groups or picking an advisory panel to regularly vet our work.

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished. While this comment from Ben Franklin is more than two hundred years old, you’d be hard-pressed to find better guidance by which to operate in 2011. As Franklin makes clear, continual growth is the essence of personal and professional success. Indeed, it’s the motivation for life.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.There are some days when this quote from Winston Churchill is my personal mantra. Probably yours too. As I read it, Churchill is saying that when things are at their worst, it does no good to stop and fret about your situation. You have to accept, suck it up and continue toward your goals, with faith and optimism—two attributes that all successful businesspeople must have.

POINTS TO PONDER:

A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.
Jeff Bezos

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
Albert Einstein

The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
Dorothy Nevill

Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.
Dave Barry

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