This article originally published June 18, 2015.
Fatherly wisdom -- they just don’t make it like they used to. Luckily, they don’t need to: Classic "dad gems" hold up just fine over time. As it turns out, they’re also pretty useful when applied to running a business, even for those of us who don’t make a living changing tires or filing taxes. In honor of this year's Father's Day, take a look at some of these classic dad sayings and how they can help a business thrive (because, after all, money doesn’t grow on trees).
1. "I'm not paying to heat the whole world."
Any of you who ever kept the door open the winter probably heard this from your dad. After all, he couldn’t see that open door without seeing his hard-earned money flying out of it. That laser focus on the mission at hand is a great lesson for small-business owners. It’s easy to think of ways to expand a new business with value-adds and cross sells and partnership promotions -- but if entrepreneurs dive into those types of ventures before the core of the business is strong enough, they risk diluting their resources. The result? A tepid business with a bunch of ho-hum offerings. Better to do as Dad recommends: Stay focused on the primary goal (keeping the house warm) and be ruthless about eliminating ancillary activities that threaten it.
2. “You’re cold? Put on a sweater.”
Does a father’s frugality know no bounds? No, it doesn’t. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to turn up the heat (especially if the kids are going to leave the door open), when layering up offers the same benefit. For small businesses, this creative mindset is invaluable: There will always be a sexy new technology for sale that will get things done. But for businesses on a budget, there’s usually a way to get similar results for less money -- without sacrificing quality. And let’s face it: A lot of the time, the older version is “still perfectly good.”
3. “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.”
Whoa, boy. This one was a doozy, wasn’t it? Dad’s not angry; he’s disappointed. Upon hearing these words, children morph suddenly from defiant and rebellious to so guilt-riddled they can’t sleep. How does a father (ahem -- business owner) pull off that kind of effortless leadership? By having high expectations and teaching his children (employees) to have high expectations of themselves. What a lesson.
4. “Here’s a little trick I learned in the army.”
I was never sure whether my father actually learned in the army everything he said he did (does the army really teach people how to put peanut butter on both slices of bread to keep the jelly from making it soggy?), but he sure gave his army days a lot of credit. There’s a lesson in that: Entrepreneurs learn valuable skills from past experiences, even if those experiences had nothing to do with the current matter at hand. In fact, an unconventional background often provides a unique perspective on how to stand out from the competition. Use it.
5. “It was cold for the other team, too.”
One time, I made the mistake of attributing my hockey team’s loss to colder-than-usual temperatures. We could barely grip our sticks, I complained. Our noses were running. My father gave me an icy look and reminded me that it was cold for the other team, too. Ouch. An important lesson: Making excuses is no way to go through life. If the business isn’t doing well because of the economy, keep in mind that every other business is operating in the same economy -- and some of them are thriving. There are always going to be forces that make running a business harder. The key to long-term success is figuring out how to get things done despite them.
6. “Let’s go out past the breakers.”
When my family went to an ocean beach (which was a rare treat, given that we lived in Michigan), we kids liked to play in the surf, dashing in and out of the crashing waves. We saw people out in the calmer part of the water, jumping waves and floating on tubes, but we were too scared to go past the breakers to get there. Until our dad went with us, that is. He showed us that, with a little skill and a little courage, we could get past the crashing waves and into the fun stuff. This is maybe the most important lesson business owners can take away: Getting to the next level will never be without barriers and obstacles. Having the courage to plunge in and experience a little discomfort is the only way to get past them and to a place where the living is easy -- or at least more fun.
It’s fitting that, for Father’s Day, we celebrate advice we never knew our dads were dispensing -- after all, dads are notorious for showing their love by offering oil-changing tutorials and lectures on conserving energy. But they take the time to teach this stuff because they love us. What better way to honor our dads than to show our businesses that same love? And if this doesn’t make any sense right now, trust me: You’ll understand when you’re older.