Nothing to fear…

Nothing to fear…

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…but business speak

Business wisdom is (or should be) largely common sense: don’t spend more than you earn; you can’t make money without investing; if you fail you should try again and learn from what went wrong, and so on.

But, over the years, the world of business has also generated vast amounts of absolute nonsense. I remember from my days in newspapers having something imposed on us called “Total Quality”, which our managing director had learned about on a course somewhere. Here we were, trained as journalists to probe beyond bullshit, and we were being told to accept something that didn’t even make sense. Quality was quality, we all knew that. There was good quality and poor quality, but how could it be “total”? As I recall, the initiative didn’t get very far.

I was reminded of it last week when I saw a post on Facebook from someone at a conference somewhere with the slogan “If it doesn’t scare you you’re probably not dreaming big enough”. Think about that for a minute. Can it really be right?

Now I may be accused of taking things too literally, but words are my business after all. And these words, intended to inspire, ring nothing but alarm bells in my head. I know what they are meant to convey – the idea that we need to be ambitious and unafraid – but that isn’t what they say.


What they suggest is that fear should be the yardstick for deciding whether our ideas are good enough, and that is clearly not how things should be. Does anyone really think that a perfectly good idea should be rejected merely because it’s not so uncommonly ambitious as to scare us? Whatever happened to achievable goals and step by step improvement?

Imagine if someone followed the maxim to the letter, coming up with wilder and more ambitious plans until they reached one that really scared them and adopted that. Do you think it would really succeed? For me, it sounds like a risky recipe for disaster. Surely success in business isn’t based on improbable dreams, but rather on finding the ways to put big ideas into practice. That may involve compromise, or sacrificing some of the wackier (or scarier) elements for the sake of being able to achieve the others. It’s as much about the how as the what.

Then there’s the idea that fear should have anything to do with business decisions at all. For me, it’s a pretty poor criterion for anything. Surely what we should be trying to do is to make rational decisions and then deal with any fear that might be generated when putting them into practice, not doing things that are deliberately scary. In short, fear is simply irrelevant: it shouldn’t stop us doing things, but it shouldn’t be a reason for doing them either.

So tell me I should be brave and bold; tell me to dream big dreams and make ambitious plans; tell me not to be scared and not to be ruled by fear. But don’t tell me my ideas aren’t good enough unless they scare me. There’s absolutely no reason why they should.


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