3 Ways to Get in Trouble

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If you’ve ever tried to go through a day without making a mistake, you know it’s impossible. Ben Franklin found that out when he embarked on his “bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” As hard as he tried, he couldn’t get through a day without violating one of his principles.

For most of us, perfection is not the goal. We want to make some good decisions and not screw up too badly. Perfection is beyond our grasp. But during my life and business career, I’ve seen three very common things that get people in trouble. Here they are, with some thoughts about how you can do better.

You Get in Trouble When You Always Go for High Growth

That’s what stock analysts and investment gurus are looking for: constant growth. We’re in love with “unicorns” and “hyper-growth.”

That’s not necessarily bad, but almost anything will get you in trouble if it includes the word “always.” Even through growth is a passion of the business community generally, there are companies that refuse to take the bait.

Neese’s Sausage is one of those companies. It’s based in Greensboro, North Carolina. They make some of the best sausage and related products in the world. But you won’t find them in your supermarket unless you’re within the range that a driver in a refrigerated truck can reach and return to sleep in his own bed on the same day. Neese’s is a fourth-generation company. The family wants to maintain the quality, so they decided not to grow geographically. As one of the family members said, “When you’re the fourth generation, you don’t want to be the one to screw it up.”

C. F. Martin is another company that’s opted not to grow much bigger. They’re also a family-run business and the family wants to keep making their legendary guitars. Since that requires lots of handwork and special training, their growth ceiling is limited.

Some things just don’t scale. But some companies get around that by growing in stages and pacing their growth. If you want to know more, pick up Dr. Alison Eyring’s excellent book, Pacing for Growth.

You Get in Trouble When You Always Decide Quickly

I’ve met many managers who pride themselves on their ability to make quick decisions. But quick decisions are not always good decisions.

Some things don’t need action at all. So, ask, “What happens if we do nothing?”

Other issues need a decision, but not from you. Ask, “Is this our decision to make, or would someone else be better?”

Whatever you do, always ask how much time you have. Take the time you have to gather information, opinions, and ideas.

If you have possible emergencies, time shift your decision-making. Possible emergencies can be natural, like an earthquake. They can be manmade, like a fire. They can relate to business activity, like closing the books at the end of a quarter. Use time when there’s calm, and no storm, to draw up plans and checklists for how you’ll respond to the emergencies.

You Get in Trouble When You Always Seek Out the Newest

We are fascinated with the new. We crave “fresh ideas.” We want the latest and best thinking, state-of-the-art technology, and “the one everyone is talking about.”

We’re fascinated by what’s on the current bestseller list, but we don’t reread great books from 10 or 20 years ago. Think about that for a moment. The very best books would be the ones that have stood the test of time. They’ve been read by men and women for centuries. The authors have names like Plato and Machiavelli and Montaigne. As Dr. Michael LeBoeuf says, “The great ideas are too important to be new.”

To beat this, you must make a conscious effort to look beyond current fads and bestseller lists and go with the proven.

How To Stay Out of Trouble

“Always” is a dangerous word. It’s a word that defines a rut. And a rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out. To stay out of the rut, do the following:

Pause before you act. If you’ve done some pre-thinking and pre-deciding with what-if scenarios, this is the time to review them.

Hear good advice. You must identify sources of good advice and be willing to listen. The hard part of this for many business leaders is that the sources of good advice are often the people who make us uncomfortable. They tell us things we don’t want to hear, even if we need to hear them. That makes it satisfying, if not effective, to banish them to the frontier posts of your empire. Don’t do it.

Once you’ve paused and heard good advice, consider it, then act. You stay out of trouble my making good decisions and moving forward. You stay out of trouble by tailoring your response to the situation and avoiding “always.”


Beware of “always.”

Always going for growth can get you in trouble.

Always deciding quickly can get you in trouble.

Always choosing the new can get you in trouble.

A rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out.

Stay out of trouble by pausing, hearing good advice, and thinking before you act.

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