Be Careful Who You Listen To

From: Ameen Kamadia

The other day, I was listening to an acknowledged business guru talking about his latest take on how to make it big. The results this guy has produced are inarguable: He was a wunderkind who sold millions via the Internet before he turned 30. He has also helped others to business success. So there is no question that the guy has earned respect and credibility when it comes to building breakthrough businesses. (Just so those of you who haven't gotten that far yet and/or are in an older generation don't get dispirited, this particular person grew up in a highly successful entrepreneurial family, so he was well prepared from the cradle.)

But...

There were two assertions that he made in the talk I listened to that made me uncomfortable, and that led me to making this issue more of a cautionary piece. The caution is that no matter how well qualified a mentor, coach, or guru is, don't ever take what they say as gospel.

The first observation the guru made was that the old saying about giving a man a fish is untrue. First, he got the saying discombobulated; the accurate version, a Chinese saying, goes, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." (And here are some funny improvements on the original!) Second, he used it in the wrong context.

The guru completely discredited this saying, saying that customers want fish--that is, that they want stuff already done for them as much as possible. Frankly, I have never heard this saying applied to sales and marketing; the only context I'm familiar with is the non-profit sector, specifically to do with working with populations in Third World countries. This adage was used to assert that giving "stuff" to those people was far less effective than working with them to become self-sustaining.

The main point the guru was making in his tirade is excellent--generally speaking, it's a "don't make me think" market. Any products or services you offer really do need to make customers' lives easier. I just take issue with calling the saying itself BS (which is what the guru said). It's more accurate to say that this saying doesn't apply to a profit-making enterprise in today's market.

The second--and in my opinion, far more serious--questionable remark was later on, when he was giving his "hot tips" for success. He asserted more than once that being first with an idea, a niche, or a solution was the best way to go. That you can blow away the competition by being first. This is a drastic oversimplification. I guess you can say it's best to be first so that you can get in and make a bunch of money before the competition catches up; that's probably true. But being first is not always best. In fact, it is well known among business and marketing strategists that being first is not necessarily best--sometimes it's better to wait and let someone else deal with the pitfalls and snafus, then step in and take over with goods and services that take advantage of the learnings of the "firsts."

A simple and classic example is the PC computer market. Once dominated by "first to the mark" companies like Kaypro, IBM stepped in and took over with an improved interface and value proposition. Earlier companies had invested in what quickly became outmoded technology, and they couldn't adapt fast enough. There are other examples of "first is not always best" in other market sectors as well...so take this piece of that great guru's advice with a big grain of salt and investigate the workability of this strategy for yourself.

Actually, I suggest that you take anybody's assertions for success with a grain of salt (even mine) until you think them through for yourself. You will produce longer lasting results, revenues, and successes if you stay awake and make sure that you are using the right adages and the right advice for your specific situation.

Happy Originating!


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