Busting the three big business myths

With job security on the decline and entire industries being crushed by the disruption robots, setting up your own business is the only way to get some control over your life.

Yet so many smart, skilled people are worried they can’t take the entrepreneur plunge, because all their lives they’ve been fed the three big myths about business:

  1. You need to be a numbers wizard.
  2. You need relentless hustle.
  3. It’s all about ordering people around and general dick-swinging like in The Apprentice.

It’s a shame, because those barriers are imaginary, or relics of a bygone time. You can still do those things if you want, but you can do fine without them.

Let’s bust the first of these business myths. Can you add up and do percentages on a spreadsheet? Or even a calculator. That’s all you need. The art of management is knowing which numbers really matter. Your business will live or die by a handful of ratios. In our business, there’s just three. If you obsess over every measurement, your business will feel like hectares of spot fires and you’ll drive your staff mad.

When my partners and I discuss investments, if they can’t be justified on the back of a coaster, it’s not profitable enough to proceed. If you passed primary school maths, that’ll do for business.

Myth two: the hustle. It can be super annoying. Hustle makes you talk about yourself all day, in person and in LinkedIn videos shot in your car: “Yo, wassup! Gonna give you the lowdown on sales funnels!” Hustle makes you harass customers with promo emails and texts every day.

Meanwhile, professional selling has evolved towards low-hustle skills: listening, learning, empathy and understanding customers’ lives, leaving the hustle bros looking like extras in The Wolf of Wall Street. Persistence and endurance are vital, but you don’t need to be pestering everyone 24/7.

Which leaves us with myth three: The Apprentice-style shows of dominance. Businesses were once gorilla colonies, ruled by one dominant silverback whose orders were law. You had to jump to it or there would be punishment and humiliation. My way or the highway. I alone know how to deliver excellence, so be more like me.

Emotion, uncertainty and admissions of fear were clear signs you weren’t cut out for the rugged business life.

Things are much less primal now. People still want a strong leader, but strength has different dimensions in uncertain times. The ability to listen, guide and inspire outperforms the big stick and bigger ego. What makes people work when you’re not there? Sure, you can try the sinister prison-surveillance tech that big companies love right now. Amazon has patented wristbands that log your warehouse box-picking speed and send you instant messages if you drop below the herd average. These Terminator Skynet methods might be effective for keeping a desperate, churning workforce in line, but they’re not going to help someone have a good idea, are they?

It’s up to you to create an environment where people want to do their best work. With that in mind, what are the essential skills now? Some level of creativity is all that’ll save you from robot replacement in the long run.

The most valuable skills in recent times are the ones that have evolved beyond the gorilla management era. The ability to listen, sense how people feel, and get them to open up. Encouraging group work and collaboration without needing to be the centre of attention every time. Not talking over people in meetings.

We’ve found it a really profitable approach. Business can get by with much less management that managers want you to think. Focus on hiring better people in frontline positions and give them the freedom to make more decisions themselves. The positive customer experiences become a major part of your marketing and your business takes off from there.

Don’t let the mythology stand in your way.