Aphorisms, maxims and pithy sayings abound, especially in social media. These pat statements seem to be true. Smart, accomplished or well known people are attributed with saying them. They get repeated with regularity so others must think they are valuable and valid. Shouldn’t you listen to them and accept them?
One you hear a lot in various forms is that those who never try never succeed. While this is undeniably true, what often happens next is a big problem. The conclusion that gets drawn and then advocated is that the opposite of this saying must be the solution. They will imply that trying itself is the answer and the likely outcome of trying will be favorable.
May I speak plainly? It just ain’t true. Just because the people who never try never succeed does not mean the people who try automatically succeed or are even likely to succeed. In fact, trying itself is rather inadequate.
But that’s not the only problem. There is a flawed rationale at play here. Thinking that all problems are binary (with only two possibilities) is not the truth. In other words, just because something is false doesn’t make its opposite true. Here is an example: giraffes are not white. If this statement is true, you cannot safely conclude that therefore giraffes are black. There are more than two possibilities for the color of giraffes.
Another problem with maxims is they are implied to be universally true. It might be simpler or nicer if a certain aphorism was always aplicable. But if you just make that assumption and blunder forward you can draw some very errant conclusions and do yourself a lot of harm.
How to Handle an Aphorism (hint: use protective gear)
Would you like to hear some wisdom of the ages that applies? It ought to satisfy people of many stripes: those who espouse an Eastern outlook, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Christians, among others. It is a statement made by an Oriental man and recorded by the Jewish man Moses. Are we all on board? Here it is:
“Does not the ear itself test out words as the palate tastes food?” ~Job
Consumption of short, concise communications of a singular point is easy so the danger is you can get lazy about your examination of such statements. If you start applying such statements untested, you can end up very disappointed.
Let’s Get Down to Business
In the entrepreneurial arena, there are lots of sayings that get bandied about with the conclusion drawn that you must get into action. No one can argue with the fact that inaction gets no results. But inaction’s opposite is no guarantee of a favorable outcome. In fact, action can have a worse outcome than inaction as capital, time, reputation, and other resources get expended to no useful purpose.
Choosing your opposite really matters. In this instance, the opposite of inaction is not action but fruitful action. It is easy to tell action from inaction. But discerning fruitful versus unfruitful action is a bit trickier. Sometimes you have no choice but to act and then determine from the outcome whether it qualified as fruitful. For most entrepreneurs, they can absorb only a small number of such unsuccessful iterations before they are run out of business. So it is important to do more than just grab any idea willy-nilly and plunge into the fray.
It is tempting to just “get into action”. Usually we can avoid downright stupid or harmful actions. The more insidious ones however are the ineffective actions. Why would you choose to engage in actions that don’t get profitable results? It could be because they are easy. It could be because they are common. It could be because “everybody” says you should. None of these reasons are a sound basis for making a choice of how to act.
Another big lure is toward actions that are measurable. Because you can gauge your effort, you may take comfort in the measurement. But mere “efforting” is not necessarily fruitful. We have to assess the results, not the preceding actions.
So what are you to do when there is no possibility of measuring results in the moment? After all, you can’t determine the harvest at planting time. One cautionary step you can take is to not overestimate the value of that which is presently measurable. Just because you know you planted this many seeds and they could potentially turn into this many plants doesn’t mean they will. Use the uncertainty of the situation to motivate you. Watchfully guard your investment. Nurture its environment. Stay vigilant and engaged. Doing so will improve your likelihood of a desirable outcome.
“Running with the popular can get you into trouble.” click to tweet
So the conclusion is: engage with wisdom and make it your own.
The early bird gets the worm
if you get enough sleep;
Better late than never
so long as late fees do not apply;
and of course
A fool and his money are soon parted.
(That one’s always true.)
So when drawing conclusions about inspirational quotes, be discerning about when and how you apply them.
What popular expressions have you learned the hard way aren’t always the truth? Tell us about it by commenting below.
Photo credit: Mollissima!