Most of us get some idea of our intelligence early on. Our educational system is good at labelling us as being challenged or gifted. Our parents compare us to our siblings. We take a battery of attitude tests on our journey toward college or grad school. We use all sorts of yardsticks to compare ourselves with each other.
We know that to be successful in business takes a certain amount of intelligence, skill and drive. Okay, let’s just come right out and say it, you need to be smart. Our nation is filled with incredible idea-makers and problem-solvers. Yet if you look through history – in fact if you look through any given day’s headlines – you will find many examples of smart people making stupid decisions. Some of these decisions cause people to lose their reputations and other times their entire careers. And those are just the ones we read about.
Smart people make dumb business mistakes every day. But why, in so many cases, do we make some of the same ones over and over? Well, other than using the sweeping generalization that we are all human, here are five reasons to consider:
Five Dumb Business Mistakes
We mistake motion for action:
Many successful business people are innovators. They’re the “Hey, what if” kind of people who are constantly mulling over new ways of tackling a problem or overcoming a set-back. So where’s the problem?
The problem comes in when you mistake ideas for action. It’s great to be always thinking about new ideas or innovations, but when you spend more time dreaming than you do putting your ideas into action, you will see negative results. Ideas alone won’t pay your bills or grow your business.
Acting on ideas will get you results. Here are some scenarios:
If I brainstorm 20 ideas for a new company slogan, that’s motion. If I choose a slogan and put it to work on my social media accounts and all my advertising, that’s action.
If I discuss a new product with my staff, that’s motion. If I delegate a team to create a prototype and give it a deadline for presenting it to me, that’s action.
If I come up with five article ideas for my blog, that’s motion. If I write the first one and post it on my blog, that’s action.
We overthink an opportunity:
Smart people like to get all the facts before making a decision. While that thoroughness can be a good thing in many cases, it can hold you back to the point of missing an opportunity in some circumstances.
Many great opportunities come at us when we least expect them. Gary Ryan Blair, author of Goal Setting 101: How to Set and Achieve a Goal and other motivational books, puts it this way: “You cannot afford to wait for perfect conditions. Goal setting is often a matter of balancing timing against available resources. Opportunities are easily lost while waiting for perfect conditions.”
How many times have you passed on something – a trade, a purchase, a sale, a project — and then kicked yourself and admonished yourself with an “I knew it!” Use your intelligence and your experience to trust your instincts more. Most of us can never feel 100 percent sure about something, but if you find yourself waiting for the “sure thing,” you will miss out on some pretty great business opportunities.
We are unprofessional:
Sometimes intelligence and emotion go hand in hand; however, while being passionate is good, being angry is not. Don’t let unchecked emotion sabotage your career.
If you are upset about an e-mail someone has sent you or forwarded you, don’t dash off an angry response that you will regret later. Take your time and think over the situation. This is a case when time can be your friend. Gather more information and wait for your anger to subside before you take action.
By the same token, take care with what you post on your social media accounts. Remember to keep personal information private and don’t get involved with spreading – or even commenting on – rumors or gossip. As for photos, a good rule of thumb is not to post anything on the internet that you would not display on your desk.
We all can get angry and blurt out things we don’t mean, but if you offend a colleague, apologize. Even if there were definite reasons for your misstep, be a class act and take responsibility for your actions.
Exaggerating the truth:
The internet affords us so much information so readily that the opportunity to borrow someone else’s work or words is always there looking us in the face. We can tell ourselves that no one will know.
Whether it’s copying and pasting that blog article and putting your by-line on it or finding out what your competitor is up to and passing it off as your idea, it’s a form of lying and of stealing, and it can damage everything you have worked so hard for.
Erica Ariel Fox, the author of Winning from Within: A Breakthrough Method for Leading, Living, and Lasting Change, says, “They will find out. Then you’ve not only lost the opportunity in front of you, you’ve put your reputation at risk for the future.”
Don’t take credit for something that is not yours. Period.
Being rigid in decision-making:
Those of you who are parents, think back to the first time you said “Because I said so” when you child asked you why you denied a request. You felt kind of silly, didn’t you? Maybe you even had an uncomfortable flashback to hearing that response when you were a kid.
Now our kids test and stretch our limits as parents on a daily basis and can ask us the same question so many times that “Because I said so” may be the only sane response, but that kind of attitude can hurt you at work.
While you certainly don’t want to be known as wishy-washy, a smart business person should be flexible in decision making. Welcome new ideas and new ways of doing things. Does a valued employee want to work from home a couple of days a week? Consider all sides of the issue before you say no out of hand. Do you love your website the way it is, but several members of your team have told you it needs updating? Listen to their reasons and consider their suggestions.
When you are open to change, you are open to opportunity.
A final thought on this topic may go to Forrest Gump and his mom: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Studies have shown that when we praise people for their intelligence rather than for their actual effort, we can actually make them perform worse over time.
In a groundbreaking series of experiments on the nation’s fifth graders in 1999, for example, Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller found that children changed their behavior depending on the kind of praise they received. The kids who were told they were smart avoided further challenging tasks while the kids who were told they put in a strong their effort went on to tackle more challenging tasks.
One explanation for the finding is that the children who were praised for their intelligence felt more helpless when they experienced setbacks and therefore either gave up or avoided the challenging tasks. By contrast, the kids who were praised for their effort seemed to prefer the challenging tasks. In other words, they weren’t afraid to fail.