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20 Pieces of Business Advice You Should Ignore

on April 24, 2013

While we do our best to remember really good business advice others bestow upon us, we sadly can’t unhear the horrible clichéd advice that permeates our business culture. Purely through endless repetition we’ve been trained to believe it has value. In actuality, it’s dated, overly simplistic, and wouldn’t actually work if you carried it out.

Thanks to a little research and a little help from my friends around the Internet, I’d like to present 20 pieces of horrible hackneyed business advice that should be buried and never uttered again.

“Good things come to those who wait”

Can you list all the successful entrepreneurs who just “waited?” Biographies of successful people don’t begin, “I just sat there and the money started rolling in.”

“Serendipity and good luck don’t just randomly occur, they need to be cultivated. You need to create your own opportunities, seize your own potential. Sitting back and hoping things will change on their own doesn’t solve a damn thing,” said writer London Rock.

“You can’t just wait for opportunities to come to you,” echoed Trinidad Pena (@trinidad_pena), Owner of Trinidad Pena – Branding + Design. “You have to create those opportunities by hustling your butt off. If something doesn’t work, then you have to try a different approach. It’s all about being proactive and creative. If you just wait, you get left-overs.”

“If you work hard enough, good things will happen”

“Hard work isn’t enough,” said B.J. Mendelson (@bjmendelson), author “Social Media is Bullshit.”

Waiting and working hard are unfortunately not the only factors that determine success.

“We play a rigged game,” said Mendelson, “Success is working smart on the things that matter and knowing everything there is to know about those things and having key personal relationships.”

“Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”

“The reality is quite a different formula,” said Bill Biggar, President of SudokuPDQ. “From my experience it’s more like, ‘Success is 22% inspiration, 53% perseverance, 5% not being dishonest, 5% not being an a-hole, and 15% FLASH.’ Make sure the person selling your idea has ‘IT,’ and what ‘IT’ is, is ‘FLASH.’”

I’m not sure Biggar has those percentages down exactly, but he’s definitely experienced this issue a lot more than the mina bird who parrots out this overused hackneyed advice for which there isn’t a single example in the world for which this holds true.

“You’re only as old as you feel”

This is what you hear when two 40+ year olds complain about back problems or some 20-something who just got promoted past them. The advice claims that time and age can simply be reversed if you “feel” differently about it.

“Like saying ‘age is just a number,’ it’s just something people say to themselves to make them feel better,” said Alastair Goldfisher (@agoldfisher), Editor at Thomson Reuters.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”

It’s an insulting piece of advice for those of us who must fill the jobs that would be impossible for anyone to love.

“It also assumes if you’re doing what you want to be doing you will always be having a great time,” said Michael Wolf (@MichaelWolf), Chief Analyst at NextMarket Insights. “Actually, you may have to work and work and sometimes you won’t love it.”

“Do what you love and you will be successful at it”

“Everyone loves the same stuff and no one wants to pay you to do something that they also love,” said Tom Nardone, President of PriveCo. “This is why bike shop owners never make any money, because someone is always willing to open up another bike shop.”

Instead, Nardone advised, “Find something that no one wants to do and then you can charge whatever you want to do it.”

“If we could all just do what we loved and be successful, we would all be home right now, napping,” said Nardone.

“Others have it worse than you”

“It represents such an incredible lack of empathy,” said Todd Camack (@toddcamack).

You can negate every situation with this phrase. There will always be a worse situation. But what’s really heartless about this maxim is the advice giver doesn’t even bother to figure out what that “worse” situation is. If you lost your job, there’s probably someone out there who lost their house. I don’t know for sure, but I’ll just say that out there somewhere there’s a worse situation than yours. While the point of this useless piece of advice is to put your problem in perspective, it does absolutely nothing to actually solve the problem.

“The customer is always right”

The purpose of this advice is to explain the importance of customer relationships for business longevity. Problem is not only is the customer not always right, they’re rarely right. That’s why they’re your customer. They don’t know how to do the thing they’re relying on you to do for them.

“I have had this thrown in my face when dealing with a customer that was entirely wrong,” said Ronny Jetmore, Principal for Jetmore Insurance Group. “Had I done what the customer wanted, I would have lost money and so would the customer.”

“We make employee scheduling software and if we implemented every feature that our customers ‘needed’ our application would be a mess,” said Jon Byrum, President of Hello Scheduling (@helloscheduling). “It’s our job to make the best product for our customers – sometimes that means we have to ignore them.”

“Always treat the customer with respect, but if you assume they’re always right, it’ll stifle innovation and get you focused on low-value activities,” said Shel Holtz (@shelholtz), Principal of Holtz Communications + Technology.


Why do I want to punch someone in the nose when they give me this advice?

“Whenever someone says this it just means that they are uncomfortable with your behavior. It is almost never spoken in kindness. It has the opposite effect of the sentiment, just like when someone tells you to smile. Generally if you want someone to relax you are better off assisting them rather than judging them,” said Mark Davis, Catering Event Manager for The Spot Gourmet.

“Follow your dreams”

I can’t even follow the logic of my dreams let alone try to build a business around them.

“In my dreams, I don’t have to work hard or carefully manage expenses to avoid the debt that can chain a business owner to the company they started,” said Nick Angelis, Co-Owner of The Grecian Garden (@GrecianGarden).

“Follow your dreams” is advised only after someone has launched a successful business. They reflectively say, “Ever since I was a little child I wanted to BLAH BLAH BLAH…”

If everyone did follow their dreams then we’d have a society meltdown as comedian Lily Tomlin pointed out on Saturday Night Live back in 1975: “Wouldn’t it be great if we all grew up to be what we wanted to be? The world would be full of nurses, firemen, and ballerinas.”

“Just do your job”

If someone is complaining about something not working right, advising them to just do their job means you’re not listening to the complaint and therefore the problem will still continue.

“If doing the work already isn’t working, why would doing more of it make any difference,” asked AP Grow, author of “How to Not Suck as a Manager.” “If a manager is trying to tell an employee there’s something they are not doing that should be tended to, then get specific about those things.”

“Think outside the box”

This advice is the equivalent to just asking, “Give me something more creative than what you’ve been giving me so far.”

“We always think outside the box. You mentioning it means you’re not helping solve the issue, but passing the critical thinking onto someone else,” complained Conor Keenan (@ConorCKeenan), SEO Analyst and Lead Email Marketer for Perfect Search Media.

“Anyone who uses a cliché as worn out as ‘think outside the box’ is demonstrating how incapable they themselves are of ‘thinking outside the box.’ Which not only means they won’t value an original thought if they actually get it – they’ll probably criticize it,” said Barry Maher, Author of “Filling the Glass.”

“Focus your time on developing your strengths rather than your weaknesses”

This only works if your weakness is not core to doing your job or communicating with others.

“It’s not okay for business leaders to give themselves a pass on things that are critical to their jobs just because they’re not a natural strength. For example thinking, ‘Well I’m not a details person. I’m a big thinker. I’ll just leave the details to the detail people,’” said Jennifer Farrer, Consultant, Director of Client Solutions for Kaplan DeVries Inc.

“Fake it ‘til you make it”

I think what annoys me so much about this advice is the person who says it usually does it with a smug “know it all” type attitude. They say it, but I don’t think one ounce of their being actually believes it or they’ve ever actually “faked their way to success.”

“Anyone is able to find out background information about any company, any person, or verify legitimacy of an off the cuff comment,” said RuthAnn Wiesner, CEO of RAW Marketing. “The only thing you will ‘make’ by faking your social status, wealth, success or business experience these days is a bad reputation for yourself and your business.”

“Be yourself”

From children’s programming to dating to 80s teen movies and even business sales, this advice is trotted out every single time someone feels uncomfortable entering into a new situation. This supposedly sage advice is actually non-advice.

“Few people consciously decide, ‘I’ll pretend to be a big shot and then I’ll hook them in with my personality,’” noted Christian Brown, Biotech Student at Thomas Jefferson University.

“I am being myself. All I know is how to be myself,” echoed Tzuwei Chen, a Web Developer who admits, “I’m terrible at everything.”

So what exactly is the advice?

Maybe you should “just do your job.”

“Never give up” or “Stick it out”

I’ll accept this advice in a Stallone or Van Damme movie, but after that, can it.

“There are plenty of times when throwing the towel is exactly what’s needed. It can save time, money, and heartache. Life is short (editor’s note: another cliché we’ll accept). If an enterprise or business relationship isn’t working, end it. Move on,” said Beth Mann, Media Consultant for Hot Buttered Media (@hotbutteredbeth).

“Failure is not an option”

This hackneyed macho advice is akin to the previous “never give up” suggestion. Again, I’ll accept it in a Stallone, Van Damme, and maybe even a Jason Statham film.

“This one piece of advice has caused some entrepreneurs to waste years of their lives,” said Will Mitchell, Founder of StartupBros (@StartupBros).

Failure is always an option. Just ask the CEOs of any of the number of businesses that fail every single year. They figured it out. You can too.

“Dress for the job you want to have”

The days of dress influencing purchase decisions are long over. Except for professional positions where dress is important to make the customer feel comfortable (e.g., doctors and lawyers), most have forgone the suits and formal business wear for casual business attire or even weekend attire. We’re constantly seeing examples of dress not equaling success (e.g., Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates).

“This clichéd advice is bad because you can end up looking out of place nowadays. It’s just as bed to dress up too much as it was to be too casual in my parents’ generation,” said Josh Weinberg (@joshuaw), President of Digital Life Group.

“Take massive action”

“In business, it is accepted (and often true) that the people taking massive action get the most attention. But it is not always true that the people taking massive action are contributing the most in value,” said consultant Dixie Gillaspie (@DixieDynamite).

This is advice given to others trying to move up the corporate ladder. The only way we’ll notice your value is if you do something big. While doing something big may serve your need for greater attention, it may not actually provide much value for the company. There are plenty of jobs in any organization where “massive action” is never an option. Regardless, the day-to-day incremental work of those jobs is still critical to ongoing success.

“If you build it, they will come”

This advice came from a movie in which ghost baseball players appear after the movie’s subject built his product, a very real baseball diamond. If you’re looking for ghost baseball players to use your product this advice may actually come in handy, otherwise it’s never worked for anybody ever.

“Building a new product, or creating a new service is the first step in a long line of actions that have to be taken to create market success,” said AP Grow.

Call others on bad advice BS

We don’t have to put up with others echoing clichéd business advice. The only way to stop this insulting thoughtless advice is to call people on it the moment it’s uttered. To make sure the advice giver is really thinking about your situation, pull the little kid move and ask “Why?” after they tell you to “take massive action” or “be yourself.” Keep asking “Why” until they’re actively thinking about your specific situation and the two of you arrive at a mutual understanding.

I’m sure I haven’t all the horrible clichéd advice that needs to be retired. Have any other recommendations? Please add them to the comments. Thanks.


Creative Commons photo attributions to alxndr, moonux, San Diego ShooterJSmith Photo, Julia Roy, cobalt123, Thibosco17, PerformanceSolutions, lukey dargons, Doug88888· · · — — — · · ·, patries71, highstrungloner, Frerieke, hans gerwitz, and thetaxhaven.

Stock photos of cigar chomping boss and others courtesy of Bigstock Photo.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Mansfield April 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm

David – this is really spot on – great post! I’ve shared it with my networks….

David Spark April 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Thanks Matt!

Tom Nardone April 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Great post. I agree with all of the contributors. There are some terrible pieces of advice there.

David Spark April 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Thanks Tom. I appreciate you thinking my article was full of horrible advice. :)

Dixie Gillaspie April 25, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Topped off with a cherry of GREAT advice – “Don’t buy this!” :)

Dixie Gillaspie April 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm

What a fabulous list of non-sense that gets labeled as “common” sense! Great compilation!

David Spark April 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Thanks Dixie

joni April 25, 2013 at 6:16 pm

this is a terrible article

Mimada April 25, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Great compilation of bad advice =)

Davina K. Brewer April 26, 2013 at 7:37 am

Totally enjoyed this. Life isn’t some cheeky quiptoid – it’s life, it’s work and play, friends and family, and it’s pain and struggle and everything else. So many of these are my faves to hate:

-the ‘lovey, dreamy’ ones b/c – exactly, most of us would love to be w/ F&F, globe trot, rearrange their furniture, hell anything but work.

-the work hard, do great job, la vie en rose ones. The game playing that often doesn’t matter, the butt kissing, the idea snaking and finger pointing, the networking that doesn’t pay off; ugh.. even no matter how SMART you work, it’s not enough to get you ahead, not when someone’s aunt’s daughter’s neighbor (w/ less experience, maybe a fancier degree) knows someone w/ the IN.

As for answering bad advice, don’t stop at why – ask HOW. Really, what are the networking secrets that we can’t find? How do I find those fab jobs? How do I be me – slacker, no suit wearing, occasionally creative, don’t do mornings or meetings me – and get ahead? How do l live my ‘get paid to travel, drink wine, nap’ dreams? Demand steps and instructions, details and specifics; then enjoy the silence. FWIW.

David Spark April 27, 2013 at 9:31 am

Davina, that was awesome. The HOW is left out all the time. In fact, we all try to build our business on the HOW and it’s usually the most protected secret. How did you do what you do? Heck, my podcast series, “Hacking Media Production” is based on asking experts how they produce their media so quickly and efficiently.

Lenora Nave April 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

I especially like the “dress for the job you want”. I want to be the Queen of England but I can’t aafford it at all. LOL

CityTrex April 30, 2013 at 7:09 am

Work Hard. Play Hard!
Maybe not advice, but it’s usually a way to force overwork with no actual R&R play to balance out.

David Spark April 30, 2013 at 9:07 am

Uggh, I hate that one. I always want to stay far away from anyone who says that about themselves.

Will Mitchell May 17, 2013 at 10:33 am

Yea, that phrase will eject me from any conversation…

MishaBurnett August 30, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Thank you so much for including “Never Give Up”. Sometimes giving up is exactly the right thing to do. Giving up on something that isn’t working allows you to try something else that might work.

David Spark August 30, 2013 at 4:41 pm

It should be, “Never give up on trying to be successful.” Not, “Never give up on what you’re doing now.” That’s why we came up with the industry term of “Pivot.” It sounds so much better than failure.

Titus Hauer September 22, 2019 at 11:29 pm

Fantastic post.

Really enjoyed reading it and it held my attention all the way through! Keep it up.

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