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The Most Damaging Bedtime Lie

Bedtime seems to be the time for heart-to-heart talks. Maybe it’s because the day has finally wound down or because it’s a stalling tactic for kids who honestly believe they aren’t tired. For whatever reason, that’s when the conversations come.

Alarm-Clock-200x300Looking back, I honestly can’t recall how many times I included in those whispered discussions the confident reassurance: “you can be anything you want to be.” It’s a good parental thing to say, except for one thing. It’s not true.

My oldest will never be a teacher of advanced calculus. He struggles with math. My youngest is not cut out to be a surgeon. Even the mention of the word “blood” makes him woozy. Their strengths and destinies lie elsewhere.

But still the lie persists:  “You can be anything you want to be.”

I don’t know whether the lie winds up damaging psyches, but I do know it can kill companies. We’ve been in challenging economic times since 2008, from which we are now only beginning to emerge. The business landscape has changed dramatically with technological advances that affect everything from manufacturing to customer service. Equally as important, the past 5 years have seen dramatic shifts in products, purchasing decisions, and customer expectations. This is where the lie comes in.

The dockets of U.S. Bankruptcy Courts across the nation are stocked with the names of companies that accepted assignments outside of their areas of expertise.  Bad decisions are borne of desperation and management teams succumb as easily as anyone.

  • “It’s design. How much different can a mobile app be from a brochure?”
  • “It’s construction. How much different can an apartment building be from a shopping center?”
  • “It’s real estate. How much different can a few townhouses be from a small strip center?”

“After all,” whispers the lie, “we’re good [designers/contractors/developers]. We can do anything we set our minds to.”

Lawyers make a lot of money from companies who forget who they are and what they’re best at. Sometimes it’s humbling – the thought that “no, I can’t really do…that.” It’s all the more humbling because many of us have long since bought into the lie.

And those deals can be tempting, can’t they? Especially in the midst of hard economic times, if I were approached by UnderArmour or some such to work on a trade agreement with international aspects, how hard would it be to not take that call?

A prestigious client?  Check.

A feather in my cap? Check.

An interesting engagement?  Check.

A sizable payday?  Check.

The possibility of more significant paydays down the road?  Double check.

Besides, who wants to say “I’m not able to handle that?” For anyone who prides himself on excellence in his field, how can you walk away just when you’ve seemingly been called up to the majors?

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve come to know this: The good ones do. The good ones walk away. When the project or the timing isn’t right, when abilities lie elsewhere even when interests don’t, the good ones stare the lie right in the face and know it for what it is.

It’s a bedtime story. And the very thing that makes it comforting makes it dangerous.