The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Business, Part 1

Three Wrongheaded Ideas that Will Keep You from Moving Forward

For a capitalist culture, we sure do have a lot of dopey ideas about business.

In this session, I talk about three lies our culture tells about what it takes to run a successful business — and some smarter, more productive truths you can swap them with. This session is intended for any business — from a tiny “side hustle” (or even the dream of kicking that off) to a bustling, multi-million dollar organization.

In this episode, I’ll cover:

  • The Big Lie that keeps people from getting into the game at all
  • My “paleo” philosophy of business
  • The Harvard Business School Lie that takes down good companies (especially big ones)
  • The low-risk approach to making business decisions
  • The Dilbert guide to business/life balance
  • What successful people do that you might not be doing (yet)

The Show Notes

Share Your Questions!

If you’d like to ask Sonia a question about business, productivity, marketing, finding work/life balance, or some other topic, just send her a note on Twitter! She’ll be addressing them regularly in future dedicated Q&A episodes.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Business, Part 1

Sonia Simone: Greetings, super friends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those of you who don’t know me yet, I’m a co-founder and the Chief Content Officer for Copyblogger Media. I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career, exactly the way you think you should.

By the way, this podcast is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform: the complete website solution for content marketers and online entrepreneurs. Find out more and take a free 14-day test drive at

The Big Lie That Keeps People From Getting into the Game at All

Today I want to talk about some of the lies of business — because the reality is, most of what people tell you about running a business is baloney. The statistics you hear about how many businesses fail, are basically baloney.

Businesses fail because they can’t figure out cash flow, which is usually because they can’t figure out how to find customers. And that just doesn’t magically happen, but it’s not rocket science either. This is something you can learn to do.

And quasi reality shows, like The Apprentice and Shark Tank, spread around more baloney, because they are in the business of making an interesting show … not teaching you how to run your business.

Now when I say business, I really don’t care whether you are talking about a couple of hundred dollars a month as a side hustle, or a great big company with hundreds of employees. Either way, our culture is full of a lot of BS about business. So I am going to rant a little bit about some of the lies, the pervasive lies in our culture, that drive me up the wall when we talk about business.

My “Paleo” Philosophy of Business

The first one that drives me absolutely bananas is that you have to have some kind of special gene. Some kind of special genetic makeup to run a business.

And you hear this all the time, that you either “have it or you don’t.” That you innately have this ability to run a business or you don’t, and there is nothing you can do about it, if you don’t have it.

This is a complete fabrication. Now I have what you might call a paleo philosophy of business. The way I see it, we evolved to make our own decisions, to figure out tricky problems, to come up with win-win solutions that benefit our tribe, and to take care of ourselves and take care of our families. We definitely did not evolve to spend eight hours a day in a cubicle with somebody else telling us what to do. So the genetic heritage you have is going to serve you just fine.

This is a piece of baloney in our culture that I think probably comes out of wanting people to not think too much about independence, or challenging what the boss has to say, or challenging what the owner of the business has to say. “Just put your head down and do your job.”

It doesn’t serve you. It never did serve you, and you can just throw it away. It’s wrong.

I know so many different kinds of people, with different personalities, different strengths, that run successful businesses. There’s not one particular makeup that is associated with being able to have a good business and being able to run your own game.

The Harvard Business School Lie That Takes Down Good Companies (Especially Big Ones)

Now the second lie, and I see this a lot in the business press, is this idea that bullheaded decisiveness is important to running a business.

This comes straight out of Harvard Business School. This is something that is taught in the Harvard MBA program, and people repeat it mindlessly. That being “decisive,” even if you are heading the wrong way, is something that is important, crucial even.

Now, yes, you need to be able to make decisions. If you can’t make any decisions, you are not going to be able to move forward. That’s just logical.

But if you are going the wrong way, it is not a good idea to keep going that way.

Quite frankly, there are a lot of massive companies that make colossal blunders and waste millions — if not billions — of dollars with this kind of bull headed decisiveness idea, that leadership is associated with making a decision and then sticking to it.

The Low-Risk Approach to Making Business Decisions

So instead of this kind of pig headedness, what you want to substitute instead is an idea out of the lean programming, development and manufacturing cultures. It’s an idea that has been around for a long time, of the minimum viable product.

And what that means is, whatever kind of business you are in, whether it’s a freelancing business, a services business, a small manufacturing business, whatever it might be. Maybe you knit socks for babies.

You launch the smallest product or service that you can that is going to serve a customer problem.

You do that with the attitude of experimentation and learning. And then you adjust based on what you learned from that experiment. You do more of what works and you do less of what doesn’t work. And interestingly, this approach is also going to get you past that terror of getting started, which I think is where this misguided advice got started in the first place.

But the reality is, I think people instinctively do know, “If I am heading the wrong direction with a lot of confidence and decisiveness, I’m going to head right off the edge of a cliff” and so they don’t get started. This lets you say, “Okay, I’m going to take two or three tentative steps forward, paying very careful attention to what’s going on, what’s working, what’s not working. I’m going to make some notes, I’m going to make lots of observations and then I am going to design a new experiment.”

That’s how you keep yourself from going over the cliff. That’s how you keep your business from failing. That’s how you find a successful product that is going to serve the needs of your market.

And again, I want to stress this is true for small business, it’s also true for large business. That kind of traditional CEO attitude of “We are going to do it my way and I have made the decision and now we are all going to row in the same direction, even if it’s a terrible idea and even if the front line employees are trying to give me warnings that we are heading for disaster.”

That’s not the way to do it. It’s the way it’s done, that doesn’t mean that’s the way to do it.

The Dilbert Guide to Business/Life Balance

And the third lie that I am going to talk about today is this idea that business has to come before everything. So “If you want to run a successful business, that has to come first and foremost. You have to be willing to sacrifice everything to get it. You have to sacrifice your health, your family, your obligations to your church, your hobbies, your interests, your friendships.”

I call major, major BS on this idea.

I ran across a book a couple of weeks ago by Scott Adams, who’s the guy who created Dilbert. He’s a very interesting writer. Kind of an interesting mind and he wrote a whole book about this called “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”

And he talks a lot about that minimum viable product idea, about experimentation and learning from experimentation, but he also talks about taking care of yourself, while at the same time having a big dream of success. And he did.

He knew very early on that he wanted to be successful. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to be successful at. A cartoonist was not on his first top ten list of ways he was going to do that.

One of the things that Scott Adams says is, “There are three types of people.” Now this is typical cartoonist simplifications, so of course, this is a gross over generalization, but we are just going to use it for the sake of this argument.

He says there are three types of people. “Selfish, stupid, and a burden on society.” But then he goes on to talk about what he means when he says, “selfish.”

So this is a quote:

The most important form of selfishness involves spending time on your fitness, eating right, pursuing your career and still spending quality time with your family and friends. If you neglect your health or your career, you slip into the second category, “stupid,” which is a short slide to becoming a burden on society.

What Successful People Do That You Might Not Be Doing (Yet)

In my experience, the most successful people are very smart at asking themselves how they can have their cake and eat it too.

Now this is not about weaseling out of your obligations. Your obligations are an important part of becoming successful. Doing what you say you are going to do, being the person you say you are going to be.

Honoring those obligations is critical, if you want to succeed at anything. Whether it’s little league coaching, running a multi-million dollar business, it doesn’t matter.

But again, most of the successful people that I know and hang out with, actually put their health and their family life first. And when I say family, I mean, you know, of course the people you are related to, married to, your children, your parents, but also your really close friendships. The people in your life who nurture you, who make you stronger, who make you better. So your family and your relationships.

They put their health and their relationships first, and then they make the business work in the spaces that are left over. Because the reality is, you are truly no good to your business, or your customers, if your life is falling apart.

And if you do not put close relationships and your health as your first daily priorities, your life is going to fall apart and your business is going to fall right after it.

So those are my three rants for today. Look for some more in the coming weeks, because the truth is, there are a whole lot of things that make me cranky about how our culture sees business. They make me cranky because I see them slow people down and I see them stop smart, interesting people, who have something to share, from sharing what they have.

Business is all about helping other people solve problems. That’s what business is.

If you are letting a lot of silly nonsense — that your next door neighbor, or your Aunt Irene, or that little voice of your mom in your head because she was worried about you, or a dopey reality TV show — talk you out of helping other people with your business, that makes me mad and I can’t have that.

And you can’t have that.

So I want to talk to you about the practicalities of business. I want to talk to you about all those things that are not rocket science. There’s a lot of them. There’s a lot of little moving parts to any kind of a business.

There’s sales and marketing, there’s keeping your finances on track, there’s managing your own productivity, there’s figuring out what your market wants and will pay for. There’s a lot of pieces.

But there’s not one of those pieces that you can’t figure out. You just can. You just really can.

So I want to help you do that, and this podcast is going to be a mix. I’m going to do some ranting like I did today, and I am going to do some interviews with some people you might not have heard from before.

I happen to have the great good fortune to have many friends in the business world, who are not popular bloggers, they are not popular podcasters, they don’t have a voice to share all their insights and cool ideas and great things that can help your business. I benefit from spending time with those people and I want you to benefit from it as well. So I am going to be inviting them to be my guests.

I’m also going to do some Q&A sessions, where I take questions from you about any aspect of business. Whether it’s a motivational problem, a customer problem, an audience problem, cash flow problem. I want to take questions from you and we’ll see if we can get you unstuck — and along the way, your question is going to solve a problem for lots and lots of other people listening to this podcast.

That was the kick off of the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. And these confessions have been brought to you today by Authority Rainmaker. Authority Rainmaker is a live, educational experience that really addresses what I just talked about. Those individual pieces of your business that have to go together — and go together smoothly — for you to get traction and move forward.

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I hope you don’t miss the opportunity to connect with me at Authority Rainmaker. I will be there. I would love to see you and meet you. We’ve also got Dan Pink, Sally Hogshead, punk legend Henry Rollins, and a lot of other really smart people, who want to help you succeed. Not to mention the secret sauce of it all, which is building real-world relationships with other attendees.

I would love to connect with you there!

If you want the details, boogie on over to And we absolutely can’t wait to see you in Denver, Colorado this May. That’s Rainmaker.FM/event.

And thank you so much for your time and attention. Those are two things that I will never take for granted. Until next time, these have been the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer.

Take care guys.