Five business lessons to live by
For those who have enjoyed my take on things, the best thing I could do for my last column is to leave you in the company of some of the great thinkers and business philosophers who have shaped my thinking. I am not linking to any of them – if you are serious about finding them, you will. One link or one article is not the point; it is about discovering a way of thinking that will shape the way you approach business.
I discovered  Benoit Mandelbrot as a young MBA and his thinking has become embedded in the mental models that govern everything I do in business. If that sounds a bit strange, consider his work, summarised by the great man himself, from the homepage of my website, “Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules, which are repeated without end”.
Business is really not that complicated, and is only made so by those with a vested interest in doing so. Look for the patterns (not trends) to unlock the way things really work.
You only need to read one business book if you want to be a corporate titan: In Search of Excellence, by  Tom Peters & Bob Waterman. Almost everything since then (the mid-80s) has been derivative.
There is only one person that is writing sensibly about business risk and strategy and that is  Nicholas Taleb, and in most important things the worst thing you can do is extrapolate the trend.
There are two people writing sensibly about advertising and marketing – one is  Bob Hoffman at Ad Contrarian, the other is  Roy H. Williams at Wizard of Ads. You can do a lot worse than to find them and follow them.
There are a few themes that have always obsessed me, which I’ve summarised into these five lessons:
1. You will find no wisdom or peace or success in popular opinion. When everyday bloggers and wannabes start sprouting on a particular topic (internet of things, neuroscience etc), it is the equivalent of the cabbie giving investment advice. You can almost guarantee they will be wrong, but that is not what the market makers are doing. The road never travelled is the only road to travel. That way you will find the purple cows.
2. Most things can be learned, but few things can be unlearned. This is why someone once claimed that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. People over-invest in what they think they know and leave little room for doubt and uncertainty, only be tripped up by those very firm convictions when the world takes a turn.
3. Almost everybody confuses the symptom (sales, market share, customer complaints etc) for the cause. If you can discipline yourself to look past the outcomes and the symptoms and really begin to understand the real drivers and causes, you will be in a position to shape the outcome you want.
4. Far too many people worry about what they do relative to a competitor, rather than focussing on their own patch of dirt. Greatness and success is what you define it to be. Getting there requires two things that you need disproportionately: luck and effort. You can only control one of those, so it is best to focus on that. Rock up every day, do the best you can – and that is all. Truly, nothing else required.
5. The way you do anything is the way you do everything. This is why it is time for me to move on. I can’t be sure that I am doing any good, nor that I am doing it well enough, anymore to warrant your time and attention.
I guess I would have written over 400 columns for Inside Retail, and I only hope that somewhere along the way it made your world better in a small way. Hook up on social media if you are that way inclined, I’ll appreciate it. Be sure to mention that you read Inside Retail, because I rarely link with strangers. I’m sure I will pop up somewhere, sometime to stir things up, but until then – Au Revoir.
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