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8 Business Principles that Last a Lifetime

Some business tenets tend to come and go. A company I worked for started a number of “game-changing” transformational programs only to quickly airbrush them out of our corporate history like a disgraced Politburo member so we could start yet another “business-critical” program.

We went from TQM to 5S to, shoot, I don’t even remember. What I do know is that each was based on sound principles… but those principles tended to die with the program.

Fortunately I found some business principles I can follow forever. These are some of my favorites:

1. Focus on collecting knowledge…

Competing is a fact of professional life: with other businesses, other products, other people. (Business isn’t a zero sum game, but it is a game we all try to win.)

Smart people win, and win even more often.

Continually striving to gain more experience, more experience, and more knowledge is the second-best way to succeed. The best way?

2. …And focus more on collecting knowledgeable people.

You can’t know everything. But you can know enough smart people so together you know almost everything. And, together, you can do almost anything.

Work hard on getting smarter. Work harder on getting smart people on your side.

3. Give before receiving.

The goal of networking is to connect with people who can provide a referral, help make a sale, share important information, serve as a mentor, etc. When we network, we want something.

But, especially at first, never ask for what you want. Forget about what you want and focus on what you can give. Giving is the only way to establish a real relationship and a lasting connection. Focus solely on what you can get out of the connection and you will never make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections. (If it’s not mutually beneficial it’s not a connection; it’s a relationship where someone is getting used.)

Approach networking as if it’s all about them and not about you, and you will soon build a network that feels the same way. Then you’ll make more than just contacts. You’ll make friends.

4. Look past the messenger and focus on the message.

When people speak from a position of position of power or authority or fame, it’s tempting to place greater emphasis on their input, advice, and ideas. Warren Buffett? Yep, gotta listen to him. Sheryl Sandberg? Yes. Richard Branson? Absolutely.

That approach works to a point–but only to a point. Really smart people strip away all the framing that comes with the source–both positive and negative–and evaluate information, advice, and input idea based solely on its merits.

When Branson says, “Screw it; just do it and get on with it,” that’s powerful. When the guy who delivers your lunch says it, shouldn’t it be just as powerful?

Never discount the message because you discount the messenger. Good advice is good advice–regardless of the source.

5. Always work on next.

It’s impossible to predict what will work, much less how well it will work. Some products stick–for a while. Some services flourish–and then don’t. Some ventures take off–and flame out. Some careers thrive–and then don’t.

You will always need a next: a new product, a new service, a new customer or connection, a new job or even career…

No matter how successful you are today, always have a next in your pipeline. If somehow your current career or business continues to thrive, great: You will still have created a bigger pipeline of potential positions or products or customers.

Always having a “next” is how successful people weather the storm when times are tough… and grow even more successful when business is booming.

6. Eat as many of your words as you can.

When you look back, one of the best things to be is wrong because when you make a mistake you are given the chance to learn. (If you’re always right you never really grow.)

Don’t worry. Every successful person has failed numerous times. Most have failed more than you–that’s why they’re so successful today.

Own every mistake, every miscue, and every failure. Say you made a mistake. Say you messed up. Say it to other people, but more importantly, look in the mirror and say it to yourself.

Then commit to making sure that next time you’ll make things turn out differently.

7. Always turn ideas into actions.

The word “idea” should be a verb, not a noun, because no idea is real until you turn that inspiration into action.

Ideas without action aren’t ideas; they’re regrets.

Every day we let hesitation and uncertainty stop us from acting on our ideas. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure are what stop me, and may be what stops you, too. Think about a few of the ideas you’ve had, whether for a new business, a new career, or even just a part-time job. Many of those ideas would have turned out well if you had given them your best effort.

Trust your analysis, your judgment, and your instincts. Trust them more than you currently do. And definitely trust your willingness to work through challenges and roadblocks.

Granted you won’t get it right all of the time… but when you let an idea stay an idea, you almost always get it wrong.

8. Check out squirrel nests.

Yeah, we’re hyper-focused. Yeah, we’ve got our head down and our blinders on. Yeah, we’re 24/7, take no prisoners, failure is not an option gals and guys.

But occasionally we all need to lighten up.

Take me. There are acres of woods behind our house. It’s like squirrel paradise. They’re always leaping from tree to tree and scampering across the deck.

When the leaves fall their nests are visible high up in the trees. I’ve seen nests for years and wondered what they’re made of (besides leaves) and how many squirrels share a nest. One day I stopped wondering and took a break to check it out.

Kinda dopey? Sure. But it was a fun five minutes that made me appreciate my squirrel friends a little more–and sent me back to work with a little extra oomph.

Success is a marathon, not a sprint. Explore. Take occasional breaks and indulge a curiosity. Once in a while, take the time to learn a little about whatever your “squirrel nests” might be.

It’s fun… and we can always use a little more of that.

What principles of your own will you always follow?

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