We're conditioned to want the easy answer, the soundbite, advice that can be distilled and shared in 140 characters or less. Although there may be a kernel of truth in many a hoary old aphorism, some are potentially ruinous if applied to your start-up or small business.
Here's a quick list of my least favorites:
Go big or go home. No. Just...no. This swaggering bit of braggadocio pumps us up, makes us the entrepreneur equivalent of chest-thumping gorillas. But it's brainless advice. Sure, the occasional big move - strategically timed, cost/benefit ratio carefully calculated - might be the right play for your company. But more often than not, it's like betting it all at a Vegas craps table and holding your breath while the dice tumble from your hand. In Sin City, the house always wins - and in business, 75 percent of start-ups fail. Be measured and thoughtful instead; it'll serve you better in the long run.
You reap what you sow. No one likes staring failure in the face. It's like confronting our own mortality: too close for comfort. It's far simpler - and yet far dumber - to look at the missteps and failures of our competitors and think they've gotten what they deserved. Of course, we would never be so foolish as to make those same mistakes, we think to ourselves. Instead of this very human (and misguided) perspective, take the opportunity to think critically about your own practices and strategy. A hard look now can make all the difference down the road.
We drink our own Kool-Aid. This is a reference to the Jonestown massacre. In which cult followers deliberately drank Kool-Aid laced with poison. And died. Somehow mass suicide doesn't seem like something to emulate or casually reference, no? What we mean to say really comes down to yet another cliched sentiment - "We love our products so much we use them ourselves." It's good to use your own product or service - but not to the exclusion of capturing the voice and perspective of real customers. After all, we have the inside scoop on our offerings so even with the best of intentions, it can be hard to experience it precisely as an actual customer would. That said, it doesn't hurt to go through the process of buying and using your product yourself to pinpoint the obvious pain points.
Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. False. Sometimes - not always - you get intelligence that your product or service isn't ready for the market, or that the market isn't ready for your product or service, or that customers are heading in a different direction altogether. Don't be so committed to your baby that you can't pivot in an entirely new direction if prudence dictates it.
Money is no object. Start-ups with great funding rounds sometimes fall into short-term thinking, judgment temporarily clouded by suddenly swollen coffers and the rush that influx of cash confers. Unexpectedly, the office perks that were unthinkable a month or two ago start looking more reasonable. A function that could wait to be filled - public relations, for example - moves up on the priority list. It's far better to operate as though you were still lean, mean and a bit green. Take your time and make decisions that require more spend with thoughtful deliberation.
All that said, here are two very good aphorisms to keep in mind that may actually help your company.
Make hay while the sun shines. When things are good, it's easy to fall into a happy, unthinking work rhythm, a "Things will always be this great" type of cheer. But it makes sense to work hard during the fat times and anticipate all the possibilities (good and bad). Develop avoidance or mitigation strategies now when times are good and you're not under the gun. And if those tough times do arrive, you'll look like a complete pro since you foresaw all the angles and have some intelligent plans in place to handle them.
If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. This is similar to another favorite: Don't wrestle with a pig - you both get dirty and the pig likes it. in other words, hold fast to your integrity, your temper, and your sense of fair play. It's nearly always easier to let go of these but harder still to act with care and restraint. But do so and you'll not only look like the better person, you'll likely be the better person or business. Customers, investors, the media and other influencers all tend to respond well to that kind of high-mindedness.