Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman philosopher, among other things (he was a politician too, but we won’t hold it against him).
Among his writing includes ‘The Six Mistakes Of Man’, which roughly translate as follows:-
- Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
- Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
- Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
- Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
- Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
- Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do
(It applies to women, too, by the way…)
1. Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others
I’ve talked before about my dislike of the idea of ‘winning’ business, as if it’s a battle, a war where there is a victor and a loser.
You don’t build good businesses by crushing your customers. You might make a decent profit in the short term, but I’m not convinced it’s worth it.
You don’t build good businesses by exploiting your staff, undermining your colleagues or misleading your boss.
You build a good business by understanding, sharing, helping, working together.
It’s hard to see this point becoming any less fundamental in the future as populations grow, as everyone has to start living – and working, and functioning – even closer together than they do now.
There are difficulties: firstly it can be a hard line to take when you can see the ‘crushers’ are ‘winning’. That can be hard to deal with, even if you understand you’re taking the long-term view.
Secondly, it’s tough: you might look weak in “society’s” eyes; you might even feel weak. People might not trust you – especially in some industries. I’ve worked with people before now who assume every move you make is an attempt to beat them in some way; because that was how they operated the assumption was everyone else does. Note the past tense about our relationships.
When you crush someone, you gain for a short while. Then you have to crush someone else to keep up the momentum. When you work with someone, when you both win, you have made your life better and their life better – and it’s more likely to be a long-term positive. These little ripples can, and will, spread.
I have a feeling I’m preaching to the converted a little here: but take some time today to have a look at some small steps you can make to make life better for you, your customers, staff, colleagues, bosses and anyone else you can think of.
2. Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected
You can’t force the country out of a recession. You can’t stop tube strikes. You can’t force down postage costs. You can’t control what your competitors are doing.
You can control which situations you worry about, and how you react to them. I’m not suggesting you attempt to eliminate empathy and emotion from your life, but try to learn which battles to pick, where to focus your limited time and energy.
Let’s say the price of a stamp doubles overnight, but direct mail is a critical part of your marketing. What do you do? You could write to the paper, moan on Facebook, complain to Royal Mail, stomp around delivering angry rants to anyone who will listen.
Or… you could work out a way of making your direct mail more effective. Spend more time sending more personalised messages. Source better data. Write better copy.
Both options will probably use similar amounts of energy. Which is more productive?
I frequently talk to people are are worrying what their competitors are doing – constantly trying to “keep-up with the Jones’s” instead of having the confidence to follow their own ideas. Take the plunge. Do what you want to do.
Linked to this is worrying about things you’ve done that are now beyond your control. Once the email is sent, it’s gone. Once the pitch has been given and the quote sent, it’s gone. Worrying about these things can not only waste your energy but be actively counterproductive: you might worry so much about the price you quoted that you follow-up with a discount, even though the client was going to accept your original price.
If you can’t do something to affect what you’re worrying about, move on. If you can do something – do it.
3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it
“Oh, I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work.”
I’ve heard that said about just about every aspect of marketing (and many other things) I can think of. Advertising doesn’t work because we put an ad in the local paper and didn’t get any responses. Direct mail doesn’t work because we once sent some letters out and didn’t hear a thing. And so on.
It’s an interesting idea: you have convinced yourself you have done something so perfectly the first time you try it that you can make a reliable decision that the ‘thing’ is impossible, rather than you are not yet good at it.
Most people don’t apply the principle to other areas of life: otherwise everyone would give-up driving a car after the first lesson; stop trying to swim after the first splashing attempts; not bother to read because the squiggles don’t make sense; throw away the tennis racket after another attempted serve goes into the net.
A desire to learn, a desire to overcome the ‘impossible’, to accomplish, achieve – this desire is what separates people who succeed from people don’t don’t, whatever measure of success (wealth, health, happiness, speed etc.) you choose to use.
Perhaps it’s more to do with the encouragement we receive when learning something ‘worthwhile’ as opposed to the occasionally lonely life of running a business. You get much more encouragement, in other words, when you try and run a marathon than when you try and run a marketing campaign.
Ultimately you can do almost anything you want to do. You can dig yourself out of the rut you’re in, add another zero to your income, reduce your working hours, make the failed advertising campaign work next time. Perhaps you just need a little help, a little encouragement?
4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences
You’ll be familiar with this problem if any part of your work or personal life involves interacting with another human being in any way.
Most people are habit-forming by nature. They have quirks, ideologies, beliefs, preferences, whatever you want to call it. Ways they like things done. I do, and you no doubt do as well.
This is fine, and to be expected, but problems arise when these little ‘preferences’ start to hold you back.
These are often rooted in history: normally some bad experience in your past has caused the problem. From a marketing perspective I’ve come across people refusing to use, amongst other things, focus groups, SEO, Google Adwords, local advertising, telesales … actually, pretty much everything. The reason is almost always to do with something going wrong in the past.
Of course it might not matter too much. It’s fine to hate, say, direct mail and never touch it – as long as you do something else to promote your business instead. Sometimes, however, these trivial preferences will have a seriously negative effect on business and relationships.
When, though, does a trivial preference become a conscious decision? Example: I don’t like to travel for meetings. This could be argued as a trivial preference based on the fact I have done it in the past and didn’t like it. On the other hand it was a decision taken after thought and discussion. A rational choice, in other words. I think!
This balance between a preference and a principle is key; the difference perhaps is the amount of thought you have put into it. A preference based on a gut reaction or accidental habit can be damaging; one built around experience, knowledge and thought can be powerful.
Preferences – preferred ways of doing things – are fine, in other words. It’s the ‘trivial’ bit you’ve got to watch out for.
5. Neglecting development and refinement of the mind
My dad is a wonderful singer and guitarist – he’s been singing and playing his entire life. But he still has singing lessons.
Sports professional keep on training, keep on practising, even when they’ve reached the pinnacle of their profession.
These people push themselves further, harder, every day. Yet when it comes to the mind many people are happy to remain relatively unchallenged.
Let’s get this straight: reading something you agree with a newspaper that shares your views isn’t really developing your mind. Following people on Twitter who confirm your worldly views isn’t developing your mind.
How often do you look at something with utter incomprehension and force yourself to work it out?
Linked to my opening sentence, I’ve been dealing with this with music over the last twelve months or so, having waited until my 30s to even consider the fact it might be something I could be good at. To me the idea of playing the same song in different keys was just baffling. After a lot of reading, practising, not to mention Youtube videos, suddenly everything clicked, it all fell into place.
Here’s a rule of thumb: if you don’t regularly find yourself standing around in an utter daze because you simply cannot work out how on earth something works, or what you should do next then you’re probably not learning very much.
Challenge yourself. Learn. Read. Watch. Consume. Learn about things you think you dislike, or understand opinions you disagree with. Don’t fall into the ‘pottering’ trap where another year goes by and everything’s still the same.
6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do
Now this is a tricky one – for what is marketing if not an attempt to compel others to follow your lead? Believe me, it’s something I wrestle with on a daily basis but we’ll go deeper into ‘marketing morals’ another day.
Where do you draw the line? Arguably almost every time you talk you are revealing your opinions. And when you start sending letters and emails to people, when you start calling and visiting them… well, it’s clear-cut isn’t it?
Similarly it’s tough to run a business without making sure your staff work as you want them to.
The difference, I suppose, is boundaries. I give people the option to read what I write. I don’t hound ‘unsubscribers’, I don’t bully people into reading the emails. If they’re good enough, interesting enough, they get read. If not, they don’t.
Perhaps a more positive take on the ‘rule’ is “Make yourself interesting enough for people to want to find out more”.
There’s the difference: the key word, ‘compel’ … “bring about (something) by the use of force or pressure” …”force or oblige (someone) to do something”.
This is what creating a brand or a workplace culture is all about: people want to work for you, they want to be associated with your brand by purchasing from you, they believe in the success you will bring them.
To my mind, in business, ‘compel’ = ‘mislead’. Getting your way through weasel words, dishonesty, scams and so on.
Honesty and transparency are the difference. Putting across your point, selling your products and services, promoting your company in a clear, honest way is a long-term strategy (and, quite simply, the right way to do things – honesty shouldn’t be a ‘strategy’!). Fooling people into buying from you is not.