How to Survive in a Competitive World
You would not believe how many “sure things” and “done deals” I’ve had fall apart at the last minute. I’ve been passed over for jobs and promotions I should have gotten so many times it isn’t funny. And the way people keep dangling carrots in front of my eyes, you’d think I was a hungry rabbit.
Despite all that, I don’t think I’ve ever been screwed. It’s all part of the ecosystem known as big business. It comes with the territory. If you’re going to get your feelings hurt, throw a fit, or whine about the injustice of it all, don’t even waste your time trying to make it. You probably won’t.
Truth is, the business world is risky business. It isn’t for the thin-skinned, the weak-minded or the faint of heart. And if you fit one of those colorful descriptors, sooner or later, you’re probably going to get weeded out of the entrepreneurial gene pool.
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Think of it as natural selection for startups and small business owners. In a competitive world, if you can’t keep your cool, stay focused, and find a way to win against all odds, you’re toast. Here are some practical rules to help you do that. Follow them, and you’ve got a good chance of surviving and maybe even coming out on top.
When you get a big break, don’t blow it. Seven years into my career, I had an opportunity to pitch one of the biggest computer companies in the world. Before heading to the airport, my boss said one thing, “Don’t blow it.” I didn’t. If you’re destined for great things, that’s all the handholding you’ll need. Have faith in yourself.
Stay focused on the big picture. Don’t panic when things go wrong or get distracted when stuff doesn’t go according to plan. It happens...a lot. Maintain perspective by staying focused on long-term goals. And remember the old gambling (or investing, same thing) axiom: Never try to win back what you’ve lost. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Move on.
Don’t do handshake or verbal deals. When it comes to agreements, it’s all or none. Having no agreement is fine under certain conditions, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you have a deal when you don’t. If it’s not in writing, it’s not a deal. Period. And for God’s sake, if you don’t understand and agree with every word, don’t sign it.
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Negotiate in good faith. There is a very real sort of Karma to the business world. In my experience, what goes around usually does come around. If you go looking for trouble, you will find it. He who lives by the sword...never mind; I’m sure you get where this is going. Just be fair-minded. It will come back to you.
Be genuine and direct. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Walk what you talk. That means don’t BS people, say what you think people want to hear, make promises you can’t or don’t intend to keep, sugarcoat the truth, or otherwise behave like a slimy snake. Not even a little. It’s a slippery slope and, once you get going, it’s hard to stop.
Be professional. Being professional can mean all sorts of things. In this sense, it means keep your personal bias, political views, religious beliefs, and emotional issues – you know what I’m talking about – out of your business life. It has nothing to do with being nice or a jerk. Just be yourself … but keep business about business.
Compete to win, fair and square. The real world is brutal and not necessarily fair. That’s just the way it is. But that doesn’t mean you should follow suit. If you get pulled over for speeding, the cop doesn’t care if there were others doing the same thing. Never compromise your ethics or break the law. Just do your best, compete to win, and let the chips fall as they may.
Handle rejection like a pro. We all get passed over, the short end of the stick, and thrown under the bus from time to time. It’s not the end of the world. Don’t vent, whine, or throw a tantrum like a little brat, at least not at work. That’s what your spouse and friends are for. Just learn from the experience and do your best to win next time.
Try not to be “interesting.” There’s an ancient proverb: “May you live in interesting times.” It sounds like a blessing but, in reality, it’s a curse. In this sense, “interesting” means “notorious,” as in “May you arouse the attention of the powers that be.” Once you’re on a bureaucrat’s radar, it’s all downhill from there. Fly under the radar, if you can.
Look, I know it’s hard to keep it together when everything seems to be falling apart. So don’t even try. And when you’re done drinking yourself silly, sleep it off and start over. See, you didn’t break. You’re more resilient than you think. And remember, if you have faith that everything will work out in the end, it will. No kidding.
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Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.