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?