I appreciate my friend John Stanko and his weekly Monday Memo, where today he wrote: “I was wrong.” He went back to an old four-point teaching about failure and realized the last point wasn’t accurate, so he re-wrote it. Maybe he didn’t see the error before, or maybe his views have changed over the years. Whatever the case, he was flexible enough to change his mind.

One of the many things my college experience did for me was to think critically–not with a negative penchant to dominate or prove somebody wrong for the fun of it–but with the intention to research and think through all of the possible angles before giving the statement or belief a hand-stamp of approval. Some bosses, religious leaders and even educators (even though they espouse an open mind) think this critical process is subversive. I believe it is Biblical.

I ran across some faulty business maxims recently that possibly have been taken for granted since many highly regarded authors have either professed or have referred to the following statements as “truth.” While I don’t necessarily endorse Alexander Kjerulf lock, stock and barrel, his challenge to these five top business maxims caught my attention:

Old maxim #1: Failure is not an option

Meaning: We absolutely, positively must succeed.


Guess what: No matter how many times you repeat this maxim, failure remains an option. Closing your eyes to this fact only makes you more likely to fail. Putting pressure on people to always succeed makes mistakes more likely because:

  • People who work under pressure are less effective
  • People resist reporting bad news
  • People close their eyes to signs of trouble

New maxim: Failure happens. Deal with it.


Old maxim #2: The customer is always right

Meaning: The customer is king. We satisfy our customers’ every need.


No. No, no, no. This tired business maxim often means that loyal hardworking employees are scorned in favor of unreasonable customers. It also, ironically, results in bad customer service.

New maxim: Happy employees means happy customers.


Old maxim #3: Never be satisfied

Meaning: You can never be satisified and complacent in business. You’ve always gotta want more.

This is a bad mistake which rests on a very fundamental misconception, namely that being satisfied means that you stop acting. That satisfaction breeds complacency and therefore that a happy, satisfied company will be passive. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, a constant sense of dissatisfaction in an organization sends one powerful message: We’re not good enough! The irony is that this results in worse performance.

This is not about closing your eyes and pretending things are great if they’re not. It’s about appreciating the fact that people in constant states of dissatisfaction erode an organization’s will and ability to act. The trick is to appreciate what you have and still aim for more.

New maxim: Always be appreciative but never complacent.


Old maxim #4: Nice guys finish last

Meaning: We can’t be too nice in business. In fact, being nice may hinder your career and impede results.

That’s just not true, of course we should be nice at work. This doesn’t mean that you have to be nice to all of the people all of the time, but it means that you absolutely can be a nice person and succeed in business. Unpleasant people hurt the bottom line. In a networked world reputation matters, and it’s more important to be generous and likeable than to be ruthless and efficient.

New maxim: Nice guys get the job done.


Old maxim #5: Grow or die

Meaning: A business is either growing or dying. A business can’t be successful if it’s not growing.

Sometimes a business might be better off spending a quarter or a year not growing but simply consolidating existing business. Consequently not growing or even shrinking does not automatically represent business failure.

New maxim: Grow when you gotta.

When I mentioned “Biblical” earlier, I was referring to Acts 17:11 and what the Apostle Paul said about some of his students: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (NIV).”

Even if you don’t agree with my philosophy, the Apostle Paul, or even Alexander Kjerulf’s revised maxims, it is noble to scrutinize what people say and make a solid examination before laying our lives down on a doctrine, opinion or a theory. I am impressed when someone does find error, especially in a teaching they themselves taught. It’s okay to change your mind. That’s called true repentance!

(The “Top 5 Business Maxims That Need to Go” article by Alexander Kjerulf is borrowed from the website, Chief Happiness Officer.)