The Most Dangerous Cliché in Business And In Life

82587856It’s ‘the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared’. It is without doubt the most dangerous cliché in business. I fall victim to its seductive smile more often than I’ll admit. Are you a victim too? If so, get ready for failure. Read on.

Tim came to see me looking for opportunity. “The most ridiculous belief in business is to think that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ It’s absolute crap.” That made me sit up. I had not thought of that. I liked what he said. It made me think about other expressions and sayings that we use glibly that in fact are absolutely wrong.

Moments ago, looking through my Possums ‘ideas’ file here at my 4am kitchen table (flying to Brisbane in a couple of hours and can’t sleep) I have stumbled upon what iconic football coach Ange Postecoglou told our leadership meeting 15 months ago. He’d coached the Brisbane Roar to a world record run of games undefeated. Yet he told us this startling truth, and ‘outed’ the most dangerously wrong cliché of all time:

“If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” – this is the most dangerous belief to survival.

‘The slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared.’ That’s what Ange called it. Powerful hey! Think about it. There is nothing more dangerous than a great last result. Things seem fine. Business is on track. The numbers are coming in. You’re wanted and needed. Your phone is ringing and people want you in their meetings. You’re feeling pretty comfortable.


STOP AND THINK. Think of these five things.

1. Only the paranoid survive. I am lucky. There’s nothing in life more paranoid than a PR guy. So I am constantly thinking worst case scenarios, questioning the next step, fretting about the future. It’s the first rule of crisis management- plan for the situation to get worse. When things are going really well, I start getting butterflies. Actor of old David Niven used the expression in his life: ” When the garden is in full bloom- watch out! That’s when the weeds are quietly growing.”

2. Embrace EBNE.  Edward De Bono’s invented word for our age; EBNE- Excellent, But Not Enough. Whatever you have going right- analyze it. How can you make it better? How can you improve, get more competitive, sharper, more effective?

3. Action beats reaction. We had a business in a smaller city. I was counseled that it’s future was dim. But the results were good! I put it out of my mind. The business suddenly went bad. We closed it. It hurt us. We reacted extremely fast and efficiently. But if we’d taken action earlier, we could have exited with far less pain. Take action proactively to drive needed change.

4. Skate to where the puck is going to be.  Keep thinking about what is going to be needed and wanted in the future… a year away, three years. Think about how you can start innovating and evolving now so you are ready to be ‘in the right place at the right time.’ Usually does not happen by luck. Make sure you’re traveling towards where you need to be to get opportunity, action, a warm embrace.

5. Remember David Tudehope. The entrepreneur who built a powerful telecommunications business who told me the secret to his success: “It’s the ability to adapt and change that underpins success.”

So- what to do about this?

Not sure really. I am as complacent as the next and have so many things ‘going a bit wrong’ that I kind of shake thinking I need to also get paranoid about the things going right! So first up, I am not going to over-react. But I will give it thought, maybe this way. Think about your role, business, health, relationships. Think about the most important things in your lives and you careers. Perhaps settle on a couple of aspects that you feel are going pretty well. And then use the five ideas and thoughts above to do a bit of due diligence on that aspect. It might not be broke, but could it do with a little fixing? Remember- action beats reaction.

Any other clichés you reckon are absolute rubbish and simply WRONG?

What do you think? “If you build it, they will come.” CRAP! “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” RUBBISH!!! Any more to throw into the ring? (Is that a cliché? Oh well, let’s move forward….)



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18 Responses to The Most Dangerous Cliché in Business And In Life

  1. Caro May 22, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Moving into the Digital Marketing world initially implementing a direct marketing downloadable information strategy taught me very quickly that the ‘build and they will come’ cliche is bs.

    As the reality of it was all based on keyword searches – people had to be searching for it to begin with. You had to find what people were searching for and then test to see if it could be monetized.

    The ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ ignores the principal of the Sigmoid Curve

    There’s a lot of cliche’s I do like, I admit, like ‘this to shall pass’ and ‘time is a healer’ have worked well for me in the past. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes your stronger’ is also another good one. They’re all ones I draw on when those adverse times slap you around a bit.

    • Chris Savage May 23, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

      Thanks Caro!

  2. Carl Sherriff May 22, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    Gotta fight this one! ‘It is what it is’

    • Chris Savage May 23, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

      True Caril

  3. Aryeh Sternberg May 22, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    The ‘if you build it, HE will come’ reference from Field of Dreams is what I thought of. I often liken that specific reference to the digital desire of many of our clients to build a behemoth website or Facebook application or other such owned piece of digital property, spend a bucketload of cash on it, then expect people to frock to their castle that is sitting in the middle of the desert. We need to build roads people! Put up signs where the people we want live to get their attention, and give them enough reason to come, and make sure they have reason to stay.

    I’d say the same goes for any type of object or service that we are trying to pull an audience to; just having it is not enough, unless it’s a tax right off or plays some ulterior role in the bigger strategy.

    • Chris Savage May 23, 2013 at 12:13 pm #


  4. tom davidson May 22, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    First impressions count the most. They might if the audience is deeply intuitive. I reckon trying to keep an open mind is a more productive approach.

    • Chris Savage May 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

      kind of agree though I fear first impressions do count the most

  5. Simon Revelman May 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is also known as intoxication of success where businesses have such good market share they fail to innovate and move with the time. Think Sony, Kodak and RIM as recent examples and Nokia as one trying hopefully not too late.

    • Chris Savage May 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm #


      • John Keetels June 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

        This works for the Australian cricket team as well. For years blessed with outstanding batsmen (Matt Hayden, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist, Mike Hussey, Ricky Ponting, etc), we now look at the Australian cricket team and shudder at the players who wear the Baggy Green.

        Cricket Australia failed to put into place any significant planning or innovation to deal with the imminent retirements of their greats.

        Now the Aussies are the 4th ranked Test side in the world, due to poor planning and a forward-thinking failure.

  6. MC Hammer May 22, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    I have always hated the old, “Never ask a question you dont know the answer to.”


    People who say it usually mean “I shouldnt have asked that question cause I didnt want to hear the answer.”

    • Chris Savage May 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

      you are a font of wisdom MC

  7. Gypsy May 22, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    ‘this too shall pass’

    i’m pretty sure most people (at least people that i know) fight like h*ll to climb up out of a sh*tty place, and that it ‘passing’ is more a result of them working to get through and out of it, rather than just waiting for it to ‘pass’ them…

    • Chris Savage May 23, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

      fair enough

  8. Joady May 22, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”

  9. chris N May 24, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”
    Interesting one this, Chris.I’ve always thought about this issue in terms of a football analogy.
    For several years Barcelona football club swept all before them with their brand of wonderfully flowing and attacking football.But this year, they got knocked out of the Champions league at the semi-final stage by a team, Bayern Munich that had spotted Barca’s achilles heal.Defence.
    Could Barca have adjusted their psyche and planned to be beaten by a team that attacked their defence with lightening speed and accuracy.
    I don’t know.
    There is another cliche that springs to mind here.”nothing succeeds like success!
    Chris N

  10. Sven February 15, 2014 at 7:09 am #

    Another goodie Chris
    As I always say to people “read the wind shifts, read the wind shifts” and reset before it hits you


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