Are You Barely Passing With Your Business Philosophy?

Are You Barely Passing With Your Business Philosophy?

I hated philosophy class in university. Absolutely couldn’t stand it. I read the textbooks and documents several times, listened to the audio files over and over again and wrote papers that should have pinned down the right answer perfectly.

And each time the grades for my papers came back, my face fell. They always hovered somewhere between 60 and 70%. Never higher.

So I worked harder. Read more. Listened longer. Wrote better. And still the grades came back in the dreaded range.

I didn’t understand it. It was frustrating. I was pulling high marks in other courses, so why not this one? I was working hard, but it didn’t seem to be enough.

And how much more work would it take to nail this class? Why wasn’t I acing this one? What did my professors want? Why couldn’t I find the right answers to get 90s instead of 60s?

Here’s the thing: There were no right answers.

Philosophy isn’t something you get right or wrong. There’s no right answer – the textbooks are just there to make you think and learn how to question, explore and investigate life, situations, ethics, and morals so that you can come up with fairly rational arguments about what you believe is the right answer.

The right answers are yours and yours alone.

But I didn’t know that. I was doing what I thought was expected of me – following “the rules”. I thought that if I followed them perfectly, I’d get high marks. I’d succeed.

So when I handed in work that just repeated textbook information or mimicked a presented argument without stretching my thoughts, asking questions or finding holes in the arguments… Well. That was that.

I’d become very good at copying someone else’s philosophy and following “the rules”. But I barely passed the course because I hadn’t explored further.

Here’s the other thing: Business is a lot like philosophy.

I see a lot of people these days busting themselves to “get it right”. To follow “the rules”. To copy the textbook and then maybe they’ll reach success. Some authority says they should do it this way or that way, and while that might be great advice to start from, there’s more to it than that.

Every business is different. What works for you might totally bomb for the next guy. What works for him might not at all work for you.

You might decide not to do a newsletter or opt-in list – even though everyone says you should – and still achieve your goals. You might choose not to have a blog – even though they all say everyone needs one – and still get plenty of attention.

The answers that are right for your business might be so far off from the textbook “How to Succeed” that it’s considered “all wrong” by the experts… but if it works for you, then it’s right for you.

In business, you need to be like a philosopher. When you conform to what everyone says you should do and copy what other people tell you to do and follow the rules without asking, “What if?” then you’re not doing anything better or different or innovative or thoughtful.

You won’t get high marks in business. You won’t earn top grades in success. You’ll get a business that just barely passes.

Barely passing isn’t very good.

If you want to build and grow and succeed in business, you have to think like a philosopher. You need to stretch your thoughts and think beyond what you’re being told to do. Get those textbooks from all the experts, sure – but use them as a springboard, a starting point.

Muse, ponder, ask questions, explore. Contemplate what’s being done and what could be done differently, or better. Think about what works for other businesses and compare that to what might work (or won’t fit) for yours.

Don’t assume the experts have all the perfect answers and template instructions to success – they only have the perfect answer of what’s worked for their business. You can replicate some of what they’ve done, sure, and you’ll achieve a certain measure of success, yes.

But imagine what might happen if you went beyond what they did.

Find your answers – not the “right” answers.

Poke at the “what ifs” and explore calculated risks. Try out new ways of pulling in clients or getting raves that no one has done before. Be untrendy and reject what’s cool. Look instead for what’s smart or efficient or effective. Chase money and results, and leave extra work and expenses in the dust.

If you want to succeed, you have to question the “rules” and the “musts” that other people tell you. You need to improve on textbook methods and rote strategies to reach even better results.

Your turn: Have you ever done something (or maybe you’re doing it now!) in your business because you thought you were “supposed” to – and realized that it just didn’t work? What answer was better? What was right for you?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Thanks James, an interesting and insightful angle

  2. Hi James,

    If you ever decide to make a Men with Pens Tshirt or coffee mug I think you should make this the quote: “Find your answers – not the “right” answers.” This is a profound philosophical statement.

    ps. If I was your philosophy teacher, I’d have given you an A:)

  3. Patrick Vuleta says:

    When I first started using the internet to build my professional image, the mistake I made was to take on too many tasks, too early, that had negligible results. Any one activity like blogging, newsletters, videos or social media can produce results, but if you take on too much because that’s what people say is needed then you can’t dedicate focused time to doing what works. You’re just all over the shop.

  4. Hey James,

    The post of all posts! One of my fav topics to discuss.

    If we’re in business to be “free” and “ourselves,” then part of our mission as a business owner is to find what works for us, to explore new business lands, to see our businesses as an adventure. If we keep copying each other, we cannot emancipate ourselves or find more fulfilling ways to do things.

    It all harkens back to school, which is why I’m glad you mentioned your Philosophy class example. School ought to be about exploration and following our own desires, instead it’s been dumbing us down to get a good score on a test and nationalize curriculums that ensure everyone learns what someone in a corner office things we should learn.

    That’s schooling – they “give” you knowledge and you regurgitate it back. Education, you “take” knowledge and create something new with it. Two very different things.

    Same with business, why not “take” some info and run with it? Be disobedient for a change. Go out on that limb. Otherwise, you’re in business chains and that’s no fun.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post James!

    Giulietta, Rebel Girl

  5. This can be a tough one. A lot of people take advice literally and don’t know how to apply it to their own situations.

    The “rules” make me crazy. I struggle with lots of them. Make bulleted lists! Publish daily! Publish on this day, at this time! And on and on.

    I’m more interested in what works best for my readers–and at the risk of sounding arrogant, what works for me, given what I believe about business and the kind of business I want to run.

    I can’t fake it. There are many, many occasions when I wish I could.

    It’s a damn shame my integrity doesn’t keep me warm at night, because I can’t live without it.

    Nicely done, James, as always.

    • I like the rules if only because I can try them, see what happens and then decide where to push and what to question about them. Rules make me think, “Yeah, but what if?” and those ‘what ifs’ have gotten me far, far in life.

      (I hear you on integrity – that’s a big one for me, but damn, no warm blankies there!)

  6. I’m feeling you with this one James. Speaking of college, I can remember having the same problem you did in some of my ‘interpretive’ classes. The grade seemed to be based on the paradigm of the instructor, not the merit of the work. I guess that’s also why I got Cs in English but blog professionally today.

    But we are all different, cut from unique cloth, and surely our business models need to reflect those differences. It is not a one-size-fits-all world. Principles generally ring true, but the application of those principles is where individualism rules.

    Good stuff man.

    • Interestingly, my brother found an old transcript this weekend. C- in building construction and D in architecture.

      And today, he’s an architect who has worked on governemental buildings and fine home construction. Go figure 🙂

  7. Oh my, I couldn’t agree with you more and I’ve just been waiting for someone – with a successful business – to write this post. I find that with the internet you just find SO many of the same answers and then you see people doing the same damn thing over and over and over again. Opt-ins with similar working and blog posts with basically the same titles. It’s gets really boring. But I guess it also makes the interesting and different ones stand out, right?

    I’ve found that the more I follow the rules the more my readers and clients back off. The more I actively try to do the opposite and differentiate myself, the more successful my site and business becomes. I’m not saying the rules don’t work. Because oftentimes they do. But blueprints and whatnot get old really fast and I think we can all sniff copycats and the uncreatives a mile away.

  8. I’ve set up some Google alerts for good writing, business writing and so on, and am always amazed how many sites and blogs focus on grammar. Of course good grammar is essential, but if following the rules of grammar were all there is to good writing, we could all win literary awards.

  9. James,

    I would say that there was a right answer: Think for yourself.

    Philosophy — wether it be ethical or business — is about giving you positions to test where you are in your life/business. They are challenges to your view of the world and your status quo. Therefore they are not to be followed blindly, but a cold slap in the face to make you think!

    Enjoyed the post.


  10. There’s always the right answer…but that answer has the darnest habit of changing every now and then PLUS….is often specific, only to you.

    One needs to tailor their own business plan to their own particular strengths and desires and NOT (in my most humble opinion, of course) compare themselves to others….everyone’s path is too unique for that. Focus on what others are doing and you’ll learn the momentum you could apply to your own personal business journey.

  11. I think I can’t answer your question as there’s no right answer when it comes to the right business philosophy. For me, I hate to do all those countless pages of plans and instead, I just do a one paragraph mission statement — and just go ready, fire…aim! with my business. There’s just no thing such as finished product and everything is constantly changing. So, flexibility and creativity are quintessential these days. I can totally relate with your story here. Cheers!

  12. I love this one James. I felt the same way about philosophy until I did have that insight about exploring for my answer instead of finding the right one.

    That realization has made all of the difference in my life. I look for what might not be seen to the eye, I look for what I can use from a situation so that I can ignore right/wrong or good/bad. I find my most rational explanation while keeping the most open mind eye can so that I don’t limit myself.

    Challenge assumptions, remove limiting beliefs, and explore the unknown – my life by design 🙂

    Cheers man!

  13. James, I just got around to reading this grade A and gem of a post because the title looked a bit boring to me. The post was anything but less than very thought provoking and true. I definitely believe in knowing the ‘rules’ to start with and then exploring boundaries and doing some customization to find the right fit for yourself and your customers. One thing I have found to be true is that I tend to throw out the rules and advice as I get closer to a deadline that appears to me that I may not make … and then voila, I make the deadline. Funny how that works.

  14. Excellent post, James. It’s interesting that I’ve frequently said that I think the most costly mistake I made when starting out on my own was commissioning a leaflet about my services. I did it because all the experts I consulted said it was a must-have. In fact, hardly anyone requested it, most of those who did were not seriously interested, and the minute percentage of people who were probably put off!

    I think I realise why now. When you’re in a service business, you’re offering a customized service to each individual client; a leaflet seems to be the antithesis of that. I think one should start with a blank sheet and ask the client what they’d like to see on it!

    In other words, don’t offer them the “correct” solution: offer them the RIGHT solution, for them.

  15. Can’t tell you how well timed your post is. I was on the verge of giving up and throwing in the towel on my fledgling business. Thanks for giving me perspective and the courage to carry on because my stuff does work for me and no-one else.

    The last few days had me questioning why I was even bothering because I started comparing myself to all my competitors – bad mistake, and one I hope not to repeat. I’m printing this post out and keeping it where I can see it.

    Thank you!

  16. Very good post, and it’s giving me more to think about. My overall business is non-traditional, so I really need to think about advertising in non-traditional ways as well.


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