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MIRACLES AND OTHER LURES TO AVOID IN '94 OTHER NO-NO'S ARE THE CLINTON CONSENSUS, CORPORATE CULTURE AND DULL PEOPLE

By Published on .

In business as in life, it's often what you avoid doing that is more important than what you do. Who knows if the year ahead will end with a bang or a whimper? Perhaps it will be some of both. For the most part, that will be irrelevant if you avoid stepping off the edge of the cliff in the meantime by making major mistakes in your business decisions.

Here's what to avoid in the year ahead.

1. Avoid certainty. If you know all the answers, you're not reading USA Today every day and The New York Times on Sundays. Being right all the time makes doing business so much easier-there are fewer stresses, fewer worries. There are also no new ideas and no ability to spot trends. In other words, doing business becomes a simple matter of repeating the past. Uncertainty is the force that stimulates new ideas.

2. Avoid consensus. Learn a lesson from Bill Clinton. The President wants to make sure everyone is on board and seated comfortably before the train leaves the station. As a result, there's a lot of steam and a loud whistle, but the train never moves. Of course consensus can be important. But leadership requires a clear vision and the ability to move forward quickly.

3. Avoid nonsense. This is a tough one. There's so much nonsense in the business world, it's difficult not to stumble over blatant stupidity. Stephen Covey's highly popular puffery is a good place to practice avoiding nonsense. For example, "win-win" is clearly The Covey Curse because so many people have become true believers. Anyone who says "This is a win-win situation" is out to get you. Learn to separate fact from nonsense.

4. Avoid miracles. "It's going to get better." "Things are turning around." These are words we all want to hear and there are always those ready to say them to make us feel good. People in business like to believe in miracles. If this is the way you're thinking, you're not alone. The ceos of Kodak, General Motors, IBM and a host of other corporations held similar thoughts.

5. Avoid corporate culture. There are ceos and presidents (and others who are out of touch with reality) still talking about "corporate culture" in near-reverential tones. Whenever a way of operating takes on a life of its own, it actually becomes the company's official customer. What happens next is that more time and effort are spent taking care of the corporate culture than tending to the needs of the end-user. IBM is a good example of a company that became blinded by its own culture.

6. Avoid hotshots. Hotshots always appear at the right moment; they have a good sense of timing. When problems seem the greatest, the hotshot appears at the door. If we believe a miracle will solve the problems, we will also fall for those who claim miracle-making capabilities. The solution is simple: Avoid people who promise you what you want to hear.

7. Avoid dull people. Dull people are depressing, and they want everyone around them to be as mediocre and uninvolved as they are. Let them get a foot in the door and they'll be certain to stall the entire organization. Dull people don't like ideas. They're appalled by anything new or different. When you identify dull, get rid of it.

8. Avoid shortcuts. The final word of caution is to avoid anyone who wants to take a shortcut. "We don't want to get bogged down in expensive, time-consuming surveys," the executive says. "We already know what our customers and prospects want." If a company isn't knowledge-driven in order to stay on target, it can't compete successfully over the longer term.

Mr. Graham is president of Graham Communications, Quincy, Mass., a marketing services and sales consulting company.

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