Last year, our company, The Funny Times, made $38.7 billion more than General Motors. Or to put it another way, we lost $38.7 billion less than General Motors. Because of our great (relative) success, I feel it is my patriotic duty as an American taxpayer, likely to be on the hook for thousands of dollars to bail out their sorry asses, to give GM some free advice.
Of course, I know GM’s leaders will never listen to me, but maybe there are other folks out there who could benefit from a few of the things that I’ve learned in 23 years of profitably running our funny business, without a single government bailout:
Keep it simple enough that even the boss can understand.
Human nature is to want to show off for the boss with dazzling presentations or complicated analyses and solutions for ongoing challenges. Realize that, for the most part, your boss has no idea what the hell you’re talking about. He probably hired you because you’re an expert in an area that he knows nothing about. If he’s running a successful business, it’s because he hires people who are much more qualified than he is and stays out of their way so they can make him more money. You will only confuse and bore him by trying to show off your superior knowledge. He’s much more interested in thinking out what he’s going to order for lunch than in listening to your brilliant new scheme to create bio-engineered cockroaches that can clean toilets and recycle the waste material into high-protein energy bars. All he needs to know is, “I found a new way to clean toilets without having to pay for the cleaning service.” Then you can chat about sports and let him enjoy visions of a grilled cheese sandwich.
Don’t let one failure stop you. There are plenty more where that came from.
Anyone who has been in business for any length of time can tell you that success is rare. You spend most of your days dealing with one screw-up after another. If you’re lucky and plan carefully, though, your occasional success can carry you through a multitude of day-to-day disasters.
Being good is good enough.
Some people devote their entire lives to their jobs. You see these people in all the most likely places: the fanciest restaurants, the most exclusive hotels, the most expensive psychiatrists’ and divorce lawyers’ offices. Don’t waste your time trying to be the best. There’s much more to life than being the most prolific credit-default-swap salesman, or stone-setting contractor. Do a good job at work and then go home and do an equally good job at goofing off and all the other things that make life worth living.
Don’t do it for the money.
You should love your job so much that you’d do it even if you weren’t getting paid. And if you’re trying to run your own business, there’ll be plenty of times you won’t get paid.
Before you go crazy, go home.
Sometimes enough is enough. Most of my best business ideas come when I’m not at work. Staying at your office until all your work is done is like making your dog stay inside until she stops barking at the mailman. It’s never going to happen. So go home and take your dog for a walk. You’ll both be much happier, and if the mailman is lucky, you’ll be off playing frisbee when he comes.
Workers can’t wait to be recognized.
The world is moving much faster than it did for our parents. Maybe Dad could wait until he retired to get his gold watch, but today’s workers aren’t looking forward to Lifetime Achievement Awards or even the Employee of the Month parking space. Instead, how about giving a Today’s Special Award (free lunch!) or making someone Employee of the Hour (a chance to pose on a pedestal in a superhero cape and have their picture taken with a cell phone).
Business doesn’t have to give you cramps.
Work shouldn’t be like a bad taco. The average person will spend three years of their life waiting: in lines, in traffic jams, and for the customer service representative to finally turn off the damned Muzak. You don’t want to be that average person (especially if you’re having cramps). So turn all your mundane, time-killing tasks into a game. While you’re waiting, plot your revenge (in detail, including your choice of murder weapons). Take a trashy novel to read wherever you might get stuck waiting. Then, even if the bureaucracy turns out to be as bad as you fear, you’ll still have something to look forward to.
Build your success on failure. Build your failures on success.
Edison didn’t invent the light bulb on his first try. He kept futzing around with it until he succeeded and finally got an electric bill. Once he became wealthy, he blew all of his money trying to perfect other inventions, like concrete furniture and pianos. But the important thing is that failure is never wasted. Sometimes your failures lead to your success, and other times to someone else’s, even if what they learn from your example is to never make pianos out of concrete.