Business Advice is like Much of Modern Medicine

Business people with challenges want quick symptomatic relief; consultants (experts) are happy to oblige – offer advice to ‘attack and eliminate the symptom’. This is just like many modern doctors – attack the symptom so that the patient is temporarily happy, the doctor is deemed a ‘hero’ and the insurance company pays little for symptomatic cures (usually to a pharma company). But, they don’t usually identify or tackle the root cause – that will take more effort and cost a whole lot more. The patient does not want to make the effort (too busy, need quick results, etc.) or make lifestyle changes (requires effort) that could address the root cause. The doctor does not want to ‘displease’ the patient by prolonging the symptom – by taking a long time to ‘fix’ the problem – or displease the insurance company by ‘spending more’. The insurance company would rather pay a small amount each time to the doctor and the pharmaceutical company than spend more to find and cure the root cause – being used could reflect ‘usefulness’ in the minds of the patients (policyholders). The pharma companies are happy dispensing symptomatic medicine and keep them coming back again and again for a lifetime.

Business people beware! Consultants, bankers, VCs and universities each do what is in their own best interests – that is how each of them makes a living. YOU have to look out for yourself – that is how you can protect yourself and DO WHAT IS IN YOUR BEST INTERESTS.

Obviously, the re-emergence of the symptoms keeps the doctor, insurance company and pharma companies happy and the money flowing but it wastes a lot of time and resources on constantly attacking symptoms while not seeking or addressing the root cause. One-trick consultants and fad gurus are like the doctors in our analogy. They get recurring business to fix symptoms that recur – like the whack-a-mole game. The only person getting a bum deal is the patient – failing to see the obvious and failing to do what is common sense. But, since the patient is instantly happy, nobody can tell him he should be unhappy. Businesses have similar issues.


Universities: I am not a conspiracy theorist but a realist. The industrial age method of education places the right to dictate what you need to study to get a particular degree with colleges and universities. Many of them have you take course and many number of them to ‘meet the requirement’ that results in larger revenues for them. Employers constantly complain that graduates in many disciplines do not come equipped to be effective from day one.While universities want their graduates to have relevant skills and succeed in business, it’s really up to you, as an individual, to figure out how. Just look around at the umpteen business schools that churn out MBAs across the world that only have bigger student loans to show for the ‘advanced degree’. They are done unless you want to go back and enroll in continuing education courses or in a new degree program. There are millions of people who get business degrees the world over – part-time and full-time – spending savings, taking loans and spending time away from family and friends. Few universities screen for the aptitude or true desire of the people who seek to enroll in MBA programs. It is difficult to tell the applicants of their non-suitability and then have to ‘fix’ them while losing lucrative fees in the process. Success or failure in the business world is  your problem.

Consultants: Once you decide to ‘go into business’ for yourself, there are thousands of startup incubators who offer assistance, thousands of co-working spaces that rent space and sell services and hundreds or thousands (or millions) of consultants who often help you with ‘one piece of the business success puzzle’ which they claim in most important. All of them may be well-intentioned but none of them screen you for your aptitude and genuine interest in doing business lest their revenues are lost (?). For all of them, it is a numbers game. You are the one seeking success (like wanting to go to war) and they are happy to help you (sell you arms) since they only sell services (arms) and make money (their living) but you own the outcome (success/failure). Whether you succeed or not, they sell their service. Millions of entrepreneurs and people in business ‘wander’ at this stage.

Venture Capitalists: Once you get assistance and develop a business plan, it is time to go to venture capitalists. They ruthlessly screen applicants and offer a range of services as a part of their value proposition. They only pick the most experienced or best ideas or lowest risk opportunities. Millions get rejected by VCs. VCs, after all, are in the business of investing the money of their limited partners (LPs, think investors) for the best possible return. They are looking at you from their perspective, not yours. It is up to you to figure out whether VC money is appropriate and how much equity to give up. VCs could care less about how much time and money you put into developing the plan or the amount of hard work you put in. They screen out everybody who ‘does not seem to be a good bet’. It is up to you to become a ‘good bet’.

Employees: You may be in love with your company or technology but employees are, first and foremost, interested in their own job security and compensation. Sure, you want them to be engaged but only you have to look out for your own business interests. If another employer offers a better job and compensation, you lose them. If you want the best value for your money and further your business objectives, it is up to  you to choose the right employees and fire the one that are not. I can tell you from experience that once you no longer have a job for them, they become ‘different people’. They are simply looking out for themselves. Are you?

Customers: Prospects and customers simply look out for themselves as well. Why would that be a surprise? After all, they are in business, either as individuals or businesses, and seek proportionate value for the money they spend. Nobody is going to hand you money because you think you have a good product or service. Prospects and customers will ruthlessly screen you out if they don’t find requisite value or find somebody else that offers better value. Are you focused on getting the right customers and the best compensation for the value you provide?

Service Providers and Suppliers: By now you understand that they too are focused on what’s best for them and seek to maximise the compensation they receive from you for the products or services they provide. Remember that your profits are simply the money left over after you pay the costs of running your business. It is up to you to ensure you are profitable and your level of profitability.

The Tax Man: In any society, the shared infrastructure and services are funded by taxes. Everybody needs to pay their fair share of taxes but no more. It is up to you to understand the law and pay only the required amount of taxes Are you?

As I wrote earlier, everybody is looking out for themselves and the ‘system’ favors the ones who have business thinking – clarity in every situation where you provide value and obtain equivalent compensation for it. If you walk with rose-colored glasses and give away value or accept little or no compensation, it is your fault and problem.

Obviously, not all patients, doctors, pharma and insurance company actions are purely symptom-focused. Similarly, neither are those of people in business. There are many people who give advice that gets to the root-cause but they tend to be fewer and less popular. Analogies like this are illustrative, not to be argued with – that misses the point.The key insight you must take away from this article is that YOU MUST UNDERSTAND AND LOOK OUT FOR YOURSELF – NOBODY ELSE WILL. Once you abdicate that lifelong responsibility, any number of people will take advantage of you.

“You must understand yourself and look out for yourself. Nobody else will. Really.”

I have succeeded and failed in business. A personal business failure made me ponder the view of most experts across the world that failure stems from what the business person LACKS – capital, talent, technology, marketing, etc. I realized that the people giving advice and the people getting advice are the smartest humans in history, and the technology and understanding of business success/failure is the most advanced in history. However, even with all the expert advice, the 70% failure rate among businesses has not changed much in years. That made me wonder about the view of experts. I realized that the foundation reasons for business failure (or lack of much success) has more to do with WHAT AN INDIVIDUAL HAS WITHIN that becomes the impediment/s and less to do with what he/she lacks externally. Once you fail in your mind – or cause it – external resources like capital, talent, technology and plans become irrelevant. It is simply failing before you have a chance to succeed.

Human nature generally seeks to blame EXTERNAL circumstances, resources and outside forces for personal failures – easier than taking personal responsibility. The tendency to keep looking for others to blame prevents people from seeing the obvious or doing what is common sense – eliminate the short-sightedness and instead find and cure the root cause which is often within the person. This approach works beyond business, across every facet of your life. The moment you take personal responsibility to find and address the root causes within you, the universe starts helping you.

I have validated these findings by surveying about 320 business people, including 75 multi-millionaires. For the statistically inclined, the Cronbach’s alpha (for reliability) is 0.8. These are insights that could make you more successful, reduce business failures, prevent the waste of precious resources and raise the standard of living across the world. Are you willing to see the obvious and doing what is common sense? If so, take the quiz, ‘Are you Wired for Business Success?’ at Business Thinking Assessments. After you do, you will get a link to an article I wrote on the ‘silent killers of success’. This will help you get to the root causes if you are facing hurdles or failures in business. Even the most successful people can succumb to the ‘silent killers of success’, but the repeatedly successful ones have learn to manage these ‘killers’.

P.S. I realized a rather obvious thing. Most of us read articles like this but never act on it. You can only learn and get better results from the insights when you L.P.T. – listen, practice and tell/teach others, whether they are colleagues, friends or family. I hope you L.P.T., whatever you glean from this.

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