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Business truisms that aren’t true

John-Graham-BlogSome business ideas seem to have a life of their own, particularly since they sound so reasonable. They’re so much a part of the culture and so obvious that they go unchallenged, requiring neither proof nor explanation. Since they’re “self-evident,” they gain truism status. But once unmasked, they’re revealed to be what they really are –– untrue.

But that’s not all. Some truisms aren’t only false; they can also be downright dangerous. Here are seven popular business truisms that deserve a closer look:

1. “It takes money to make money.” This one is so obvious that it has earned a permanent place in the pantheon of business lore. Yet, it has taken a life of its own for a less than obvious reason. Strangely enough, it may survive because it offers unparalleled comfort.

“Comfort?” you say? How could not having money be consoling? If I believe that it takes money to make money and I don’t have money, then I’m off the hook; home free. Why work hard, be persistent, make sacrifices, put yourself at risk, or even try when the cards are stacked against you?

In other words, if it takes money to make money, why waste your time trying to climb the ladder of success when you lack what it takes to do it? We put limits on ourselves when we permit an idea such as this to guide us.

2. “I know, but it’s a tax-deductible expense.” The worst money mistake I ever made was agreeing to make a presentation at a conference that was scheduled halfway across the country. The convener held out the occasion as an opportunity to meet and present to possible clients. He described it as “a free pass to the hen house.” This was his justification for not paying a speaker’s fee or covering travel expenses.

I can still hear myself justifying spending the money since at least the expenses were tax deductible. One way or the other, everyone in business is lured into footing the bill for things that may not be worthwhile. Just because something may be tax deductible doesn’t make it a smart move.

There are times when doing something for free makes sense, just don’t justify doing it because it’s tax deductible.

3. “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” How could anyone question this idea? It not only seems so obvious, but it’s ingrained in our culture. All that’s needed is to hear it enough times and we become believers.

Not too long ago, insurance agents were lured into the business with a compelling enticement: “Work hard in the business for 20 years and then the business will work hard for you for the next 20 years.” Many professions offered similar lures. It sounds like a good deal: If you pay your dues, there will be a positive payoff.

Of course, the reality is quite different. There’s no guarantee to “get lucky” just by working hard. Today, such effort may not guarantee getting or keeping a job, having your business survive, or live comfortably in retirement.

Or, to put it another way, entitlement is a myth.


4. “Look at it from 30,000 feet.” Seeing the big picture is certainly helpful when it come to keeping things in perspective. At the same time, it can ignore the reality of coming face-to-face with problems. Looking at wildfire fires or a flood from the window of airplane is quite different from what someone sees who races from a home engulfed in flames, waits to be rescued from the rising waters of a raging river or is a first responder to a threatening situation.

Some in business can take too much pride in being “big picture” people and do a disservice to those who don’t fly quite so high. Because they fight the frontline battles, put out endless fires, correct the mistakes, satisfy customers, make things happen or all of the above, they may the best resource for solving and identifying problems.

5. “You have to believe in yourself.” It’s a given that it takes a certain amount of self-confidence to do well in business. But quite often, as we’ve all seen, self-confidence races out of control, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

There are those who know all the answers, believe they do everything right, make brilliant decisions, possess the formula for success, fabricate facts –– and focus attention on themselves rather than the company or their customers.

This can be a dangerous game today, particularly when it’s so easy to be tripped up by increased transparency. Once again, the emperor has no clothes.

6. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Wow! That’s not only tough talk, but it’s also nonsense. We all face enough challenges without adding ideas that only make our task even more difficult and demanding –– and this is one of them. For some people, there are only two teams, two views, two answers, two ways of doing things, and two attitudes: one is right and the other is wrong. That’s it.

With a duality mindset, we create the enormous problem of cutting ourselves off from the many “shades of grey” and reducing complicated problems to simple solutions.

7. “You can BS others but you can’t BS yourself.” And, finally, here’s the granddaddy of them all. If only it were true –– but it isn’t! While self-deception is complicated, most of us are masters at the everyday garden variety: convincing ourselves –– and then others –– something we want to be true is, in fact, true. And it’s a useful tool for shaping the way others see us.

Here’s just one example of how we BS ourselves in business: resumes and business bios (see LinkedIn): facts are fudged, twisted, exaggerated and ignored, claims are made that stretch credibility beyond the breaking point, and achievements are piled as high as an elephant’s eye (and every week, the pile grows higher). Many are little more than exercises in creative writing.

All of which suggests that it’s far easier to BS ourselves than it is others. And there may be nothing worse than self-deception.

Seven business truisms that aren’t just untrue, they’re dangerous because they limit success, undermine credibility, create distrust and inhibit achievement.


John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at, 617-774-9759 or

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One Comment

  1. Finally, someone debunks that hoary old adage, “If not part of the solution you’re part of the problem”! Bravo! Take that, you one-dimensional thinkers out there! And all of these are gems, not the least that details are important (“Look at it from 30,000 feet”) and that Horatio Algers was a business consultant (“The harder you work, the luckier you get.”). Kudos to you, Mr. Graham, we need more voices of reason such as yours!

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