8 Business Principles That Never Go Out of Style

Want trendy, flavor-of-the-month management ideas? You won't find 'em on this list.

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Some business principles come and go.

A company I worked for started so many game-changing transformational programs and then, like a disgraced member of the Politburo, quickly abandoned and airbrushed them out of our corporate history so we could start yet another “business-critical” program that would be abandoned. We referred to them as the “acronym of the month.”

Fortunately, there are some business principles you can use forever:

1. Look past the messenger and focus on the message.

When people speak from a position of power or authority or fame, it’s tempting to place greater emphasis on their input, advice, and ideas.

Warren Buffett? Yep, gotta listen to him. Sheryl Sandberg? Yes. Richard Branson? Absolutely.

That approach works to a point–but only to a point. Really smart people strip away all the framing that comes with the source–both positive and negative–and evaluate information, advice, and input idea based solely on its merits.

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When Branson says, “Screw it; just do it and get on with it,” it’s powerful.

If the guy who delivers your lunch says it, it should be just as powerful.

Never discount the message because you discount the messenger. Good advice is good advice–regardless of the source.

2. Focus on collecting knowledge…

Competing is a fact of professional life: with other businesses, other products, other people. It’s not a zero sum game, but it is a game we all try to win.

Smart people win a lot.

Smarter people win even more often.

Continually striving to gain more experience, more experience, and more knowledge is the second-best way to succeed.

3. …But focus more on collecting knowledgeable people.

You can’t know everything. But you can know enough smart people that together you know almost everything.

And, together, do almost anything.

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Work hard on getting smarter. Work harder on getting smart people on your side.


4. Give before receiving.

The goal of networking is to connect with people who can provide a referral, help make a sale, share important information, serve as a mentor, etc. When we network, we want something.

But, especially at first, never ask for what you want. Forget about what you want and focus on what you can give.

Giving is the only way to establish a real relationship and a lasting connection. Focus solely on what you can get out of the connection and you will never make meaningful, mutually beneficial connections.

Approach networking as if it’s all about them and not about you and you’ll build a network that approaches it the same way.

And you’ll create more than contacts. You’ll make friends.

5. Always work on next.

It’s impossible to predict what will work, much less how well it will work. Some products stick–for a while. Some services flourish–and then don’t. Some ventures take off–and flame out.

You will always need a next: a new product, a new service, a new customer or connection.

No matter how successful you are today, always have a next in your pipeline. If somehow your current products or services or ventures continue to thrive, great: You will have created a bigger line of products and services and ventures.

That’s how successful people weather the storm when times are tough, and become even more successful when business is booming.

6. Eat as many of your words as you can.

If you’re always right you never grow. When you look back, one of the best things to be is wrong because when you make a mistake you are given the chance to learn.

(Don’t worry. Every successful person has failed numerous times. Most have failed more than you. That’s why they’re successful today.)

Own every mistake, every miscue, and every failure. Say you made a mistake. Say you messed up. Say it to other people, but more importantly, look in the mirror and say it to yourself.

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Then commit to making sure that next time things will turn out very differently.

7. Turn ideas into actions.

The word “idea” should be a verb, not a noun, because no idea is real until you turn that inspiration into action.

Ideas without action aren’t ideas. They’re regrets.

Every day we let hesitation and uncertainty stop us from acting on our ideas. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure are what stop me, and may be what stops you, too.

Think about a few of the ideas you’ve had, whether for a new business, a new career, or even just a part-time job. Looking back, many of your ideas would have turned out well, especially if you had given them your best effort.

Trust your analysis, your judgment, and your instincts. Trust them more than you do. Trust your willingness to work through challenges and roadblocks.

Granted you won’t get it right all the time but when you let an idea stay an idea, you almost always get it wrong.

8. Learn about squirrel nests.

Yeah, you’re hyper-focused. Yeah, you’ve got your head down and your blinders on. Yeah, you’re a 24/7, take no prisoners, failure is not an option gal or guy.

Occasionally we all need to lighten up.

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Example: There are acres of woods behind our house. It’s like a squirrel paradise. Squirrels are always racing around the yard and scooting across the deck.

When the leaves fall their nests are visible high up in the trees. I’ve seen their nests for years and always wondered about stuff like what they’re made of (besides leaves) and how many squirrels share a nest. One day I stopped wondering and took a break to check it out.

Stupid example? Sure. But it was a fun five minutes that made me appreciate my squirrel friends a little more–and sent me back to work with a little extra oomph.

Once in a while, take the time to learn a little about your “squirrel nests,” whatever those might be.

Success is a marathon, not a sprint. Explore. Indulge a curiosity.

You never know where it might take you.

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden

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