If Doing Business This Way Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Be Right

Humans learn by watching other humans.

We all know this.

And yet, when I point this out to clients who feel like such a failure for not doing business “right,” they don’t really believe me.

Here’s why. We think we learn from books and lectures, because we associate learning with the way we were taught in school.

But what you learn in school is such a small sliver of what you learn in the rest of your life. You learn how to be smooth with the ladies by watching other people do it. You might never have believed a household could run so smoothly until you see someone who does it with practiced ease. Although some stuff is a matter of training muscle memory (like learning to drive), most of the time you’re picking up a lot of valuable information from others by either seeing what they do well, or picking apart the problems in their behavior (which is always so much easier in other people’s behaviour than your own.)

For example in my own life, I thought I could never be structured in my planning, but by watching my friend Joel (a former corporate project manager) do it, I’m learning what I’m doing wrong, and it’s really smoothing out the process.

So what’s broken about how we learn to run a business?

Here’s what has happened when people think they’re doing business ‘wrong.’

  • They don’t want to do business the way they see other people do business. They want to do things differently.
  • They do things differently. But it’s hard; the gears are grinding and the motor’s chugging.
  • Meanwhile, the people doing things ‘the right way’ seem to be having masterful success.

There’s so many poor assumptions here, I want to take it line by line.

They don’t want to do business the way they see other people do business.

This is mainly an issue of perception, which we all suffer from. The loudest and most in-your-face marketing styles get the most attention, so it feels like they’re everywhere. You start to think that you have to be all internet-markety, and forget all about the low-key emails from Sock Dreams that we like so much.

You think you have to be all launchlaunchlaunch and forget that some A-listers launch infrequently, and always have. (Productive Flourishing comes to mind here.)

And don’t forget, the people whose business models don’t revolve around launching, well, you rarely know they exist. I recently scoured my contacts to find people who offer VA services. It turns out I know quite a few, but they rarely advertise– so much of their clientele comes through word of mouth.

You think you have to be Gary Vaynerchuk, but sometimes all you have to do is show up. You just need to show up regularly.

They do things differently. But it’s hard; the gears are grinding and the motor’s chugging.

This is naturally going to be hard. Imagine you were raised without knowing how to make more than boxed macaroni. Now, envision learning how to make a 4-course meal without seeing how someone else does it.

It’s going to be brutal. You won’t know when to spice things, what order to put things on the stove– you’ll probably forget to defrost the meat, and dessert will be 45 minutes late because you forgot to turn on the oven. There’s a huge amount of anticipation and planning involved, most of which only comes from experience.

Now imagine if you’ve watched an experienced person do it first. Set the steaks on defrost in the microwave as you scrub up the potatoes and carrots. Preheat the oven. Chop the potatoes small enough that they will roast in about 30 minutes as opposed to 45. Toss the veggies in rosemary and olive oil, them pop them in the oven. Salt rub on the steaks. Even though there’s multiple steps involved in preparing each course, these steps are woven effortlessly between each other, the way that a symphony brings different themes and melodies to the forefront in turn. There’s a rhythm and a balance that seems natural, but in actuality takes considerable skill to pull off.

If you tried to recreate this process after watching an experienced cook, you could do it. Oh, you might forget a few things. Maybe you’d forget to preheat the grill the first time. Or maybe you’d cut the potatoes too big. But you would know, because you’d seen it done, what all the important pieces were. And after doing it a few times, it would be smooth sailing.

Running a business looks A LOT more like the first scenario than the second. And you might be missing a few important pieces. But you know the outcome that you want, and you will get there eventually– it’s just going to be really rough in the beginning because there’s no one you can job-shadow.

Meanwhile, the people doing things ‘the right way’ seem to be having masterful success.

No. No, they are not.

Well, it’s possible that they are. But there’s a lot of showmanship involved. You’re looking at their marketing– which isn’t just their highlight reel, it’s the cut they play as the Academy Award for Best Picture nominations are presented. It’s designed to not just look like a winner, but the winner.

Meanwhile, here you are with your schedule in shambles, no real marketing plan to speak of, a half-formed project that you’re floundering under, and you know exactly how much money you made this week and it sure as hell wasn’t “over $100,000 in three days.

Now, I don’t want to tell you that these people are lying. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t (although I’m pretty sure those numbers are always gross revenues.) But I am positive that you wouldn’t get the results they are getting because you don’t want to do what they did to get there. We covered this under point 1.

Maybe you’d have a problem because you find the tactics unethical or distasteful. Maybe the thought of that much public interaction gives you hives. Maybe you just don’t have that much time and effort to give it. But I’m positive that that “obvious” route is closed to you for a very good reason, and that very good reason is why you are doing things your way.

The only — ONLY– problem with doing things your own way is that it can be slow going figuring out what that is. And then it takes another little while to figure out how to make it work for you. But you’ll get there. And when you do, it will be a sustainable success, a success you can be proud of.

And that means you did business right after all.

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