Paul Jarvis

Absolutism can absolutely ruin your business

There are certain things in life that one can consider absolute. Like knowing you need air to breath. Or, that if you step off a 41st storey of a building, you’re going to fall, really, really quickly. Or, that platypodes are not only super fucking weird creatures, but the pluralization of their species name is also pretty badass (and is apparently interchangeable with the word platypi). But are there really business absolutes?

Most business mistakes happen because we assume something is a fact, when really, most things aren’t (they’re just ideas enough people feel are true).

But business advice holds no absolute truths, just a bunch of “probably”s, “maybe”s and “one time this worked for me”s. Maybe this idea you have will work out. If you do the work, follow what the experts say will help, then things might work out in your favour.

If you type words into the internet, money will absolutely come out!

Except it doesn’t work that way. Or at least, rarely. And not because some absolute business truth was followed—more than likely that sort of success happens specifically because no absolutes were followed at all.

Business is an experiment. If it wasn’t, everyone’s businesses would be profitable all the time. And experimenting implies an outcome is unknown. Even when it comes to how you “feel” about something in business. It’s hard to absolutely say “Well, I would never do that” or “that’s not how I run my business” since things change. Minds change. Your stance on what’s good or bad changes. Not because you’re a wishy-washy rubber band of a human being, but because as a business owner, you evolve, learn, adapt, grow and play with ideas.

I’ve said pretty publicly that I’ve never had a Facebook account. And now I have a business one (oops, I deleted it a few days after I published this). I quit Medium so publicly that it was written about, and then I started publishing a few pieces on my Medium account again a few weeks ago. I even assumed I couldn’t be a writer because I wasn’t a writer (but then I wrote 5 books). I also assumed that I was an awful speaker, and now I host a couple podcasts that people actually listen to (which I still find freaky).

All because I challenged what I assumed to be true.

But those were just assumptions that were true at one particular moment. And they were only true until they weren’t true anymore. And for no reason other than I wanted to see, “So what will happen if I try X” or, “What will happen if I play with X again…” or, “What if I ignore all thought leader advice on this subject and try X…”

If I hadn’t realized that nothing in business (or life) is absolute, I’d have never written any books, created products, become a designer or started a newsletter. We collectively assume that most things are absolutes in our work because we simply haven’t questioned them enough. We often take what others say as absolute. When really, it may have just been something they tried one time, and it worked, and we’re assuming a data-set of one is valid (hint: it’s not).

Science would laugh (if science could laugh) at any findings if we only tested a theory one time or believed a theory to be true because someone said it on Twitter. And further, even science doesn’t hold absolute truths for very long, otherwise the world would still be flat and Pluto would still be a planet (poor little Pluto).

So it’s not a matter of there being absolutes in your business that shouldn’t ever be questioned. It’s more a matter of remembering that everything about your business is an experiment, and all that matters is which experiments you’d like to try to prove/disprove today.

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