Back when I worked in the corporate Saudi Arabia Phone Number world, I used to get called naive at least once a week.
I kept treating my employees like adults, instead of like naughty children. Naive.
My writing lightened up the stiff, lawyer-crafted language we used with our customers. Naive.
I was even dumb enough to occasionally tell the truth at meetings so we had some chance of fixing business-threatening problems. Naive.
Tsk, tsk, tsk. Such a bright girl, but I clearly had no head at all for business.
So I took off on my own.
Smack in the middle of an ugly international financial crisis, I “took the risk” of going without guaranteed income and making a living online. I tied my financial fortunes to my own efforts, rather than to the wisdom of senior executives and a prestigious board of directors.
(The real risk, of course, was that I’d be thrown in jail for multiple homicide. In comparison to that, self-employment looked like the safest bet.)
It’s worked out pretty well so far. But it seems that every year offers new possibilities for relationship building and opportunities to work on bigger things. And from time to time, I find it useful to revisit some of my naive ideas from my corporate days.
Because I still believe that being naive is one of the best ways to make a company great — whether that company is made up of one person or 10,000.
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Signs of a naive person
Traditionally, being naive is associated with assertions or behaviors that display a person’s inexperience in a particular field or subject. A lack of sophistication and strict adherence to ideals are also signs of a naive person.
Can you see that, when it comes to creative business, naiveté might not necessarily be a negative quality?
In fact, it might be the exact quality that helps someone see opportunities, write better headlines, and use ethical sales techniques that other, more “experienced” people overlook or ignore — the winning differences that propel great innovations, great branding, and great marketing.
It’s all invented
I first read Ben and Roz Zander’s extraordinary book The Art of Possibility around the time when I started my first business. I’ve read it many times since then, and I always take away something new.
The book starts with a brain-bending chapter: “It’s All Invented.”
“Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.”
The Zanders expand that to:
“It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.”
This is an especially juicy time to walk through your business like Alice in Wonderland, realizing that the “appropriate, sensible” way to do things is often nothing but a pack of cards.
Don’t ignore the facts, especially the ugly ones. But do understand that it’s your game. You get to write the rules.
Nothing matters more than people
We’re often told that we need to quit working in our businesses so we can work on our businesses … to:
- Create processes and systems.
- Ensure our businesses don’t depend on any one individual, including us.
- Make sure we don’t over-rely on the kind of talented, passionate employees that Seth Godin calls “linchpins.”
We’re told that some of that “human resources, goody two-shoes stuff” can be applied, like mascara, to our businesses — as long as cash flow is good.
But it’s a luxury. When times are tight, all that earthy, crunchy crap has to go. Those irritating employees are lucky to have jobs at all.