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When Bad Ideas Can Actually Be Good Advice

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Advice, it’s said, is worth what you pay for it. That goes double for free advice.


It seems everywhere you turn, experts and others are giving business advice -- 10 tips for this and four ideas for the other thing. I have little doubt that all that advice is well-intended and most is actually valuable.

Instead of repeating those pearls of wisdom here, I thought it would be just as useful and more fun to look at a few examples of how bad business suggestions may actually be good advice.

Related: How Dropped Deals Can Actually Accelerate Growth

1. Surround yourself with 'yes' people.

You probably recognize that as a bad suggestion, because “yes” people won’t give you important, constructive input. They can’t alert you to looming disaster.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for encouragement and support. “Yes” people can be especially valuable if they invest in your ideas and have expertise or insight to offer -- good mentors, for example. Winning team members find ways to help others as well as the team get to that all-important “yes,” which can be a challenge if you build a team with only “no” people.  

2. Seek out failure.

Most people don’t want to fail. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Even so, nothing is more instructive than failure and anyone who’s failed -- which is essentially everyone -- will tell you that they learned more from falling flat than winning big. But learning isn’t the only reason to seek out failure. Failing at new and usual ventures breeds confidence. After awhile, you’re no longer timid about trying new things -- failing makes for fearless innovators.

Billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, said her father pushed her and her brother to fail. "My dad used to ask my brother and me at the dinner table what we had failed at that week," she said. "I can remember coming home from school and saying, 'Dad, I tried out for this, and I was horrible!' and he would high-five me and say, 'Way to go!' If I didn't have something that I had failed at, he actually would be disappointed," she continued.

Even though it may not be the goal, failure is a powerful entrepreneurship tool.

Related: You Will Fail, But Don't Ever Consider Yourself a Failure

3. Don’t decide.

In entrepreneurship lore, we love deciders -- those who make committed, fearless decisions quickly and often with limited information.

While that can be great in some contexts, making decisions quickly and with limited data isn’t always a great idea. In fact, it can often be a bad idea resulting in even worse decisions. Instead, consider putting off a big decision. Let new information develop or others make mistakes you can observe and avoid. Taking time away from a big decision can also help you see it more clearly or consider different approaches you may not see when rushing to conclusion.

While being a forceful decider can be effective and even popular, many times the quick decision isn’t the right one. More often, the right decision is the right decision -- even if it takes a bit longer.

4. Don’t delegate.

Entrepreneurs are told over and over again how important it is to delegate. You can’t do everything yourself, we say. You’ll burn out, we caution. Find and trust experts, we advise.

But there’s something to be said for the reason entrepreneurs and business leaders do things themselves in the first place -- knowing it’s done correctly or done the way they want it. And there are definite perils in being too trusting in any setting, especially one in which your dreams, reputation and personal investments may be on the line. In the military, for example, they say, “Trust. But verify.” That’s decent business advice as well.

You don’t have to literally do everything yourself, but there’s value in knowing what’s happening in your shop or startup. If you’re the boss, people probably expect you to know. So make sure you do.

In case I’m not clear, I’m not advising you start a company, stock it with people who won’t tell you the truth, chart a course for failure and avoid making decisions altogether. Don’t do that. What I am saying is it may be just as unwise to follow business advice so strictly. In the end, you’ll have to do what you think is best. Even if something sounds like a bad idea, it may actually be good advice. 

Related: Entrepreneurship Is a Journey in 7 Stages. Enjoy The Ride.

Amy Rosen

Written By

Amy Rosen is a partner at the Public Private Strategy Group (PPSG) and a member of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capabilities of Young People. She was previously president and CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and vice chair of the World Economic Forum's Youth Unemployment Council.