3 Most Dangerous Half Truths in Entrepreneurship

dangerous half truths

Have you noticed how annoying small business clichés seem to generate instant experts? It’s as if repeating the same half true clichés that appear everywhere validates a voice.

I can’t resist pointing out these three clichés below.  Pointing out what’s wrong with them, why they are only half true, and why they are also dangerous. So here we go.

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1. Do What You Love

What business to start? Supposedly – you should just do what you love.

However, just imagine how many business failures came from people who loved, say…cooking, graphic design, fashion, music, cars, travel, etc. but still failed. Doing what they loved did not make these millions of failures successful. It takes more than that.

I can guarantee you that the cliché “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” was not floated by somebody running a business.

The truth is that doing what you love isn’t enough at all. Doing something that people will pay for is way more important. Do not what you love, but what your customers love. Give value. Focus strategically on a realistic market and offer that market benefits that are worth enough money to cover your costs. Then you have sufficient resources to do it right, and — way more important — you execute properly.

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The half truth here is that if you have everything else right, doing what you love is a significant advantage. It can help you get through long days and tough times. But you’ll also have to deal with sales, marketing, production, administration, and running a business.

2. Passion, Persistence, and Perseverance

“Just keep trying and you’ll succeed” is terrible business advice, and, unfortunately, way too common as well. I shudder to think how often some aging entrepreneur stands up in front of hopefuls, microphone in hand, suggesting that all it takes is sticking to it.

That’s terrible advice. Every one of those hackneyed presentations from successful entrepreneurs should be matched with equal time from some might-have-been entrepreneur who stuck with it, following the worn and tired advice, until stubbornly losing business, home, relationships and dreams.

The half truth here is that in some cases, every so often, a business that seems to be failing just needs more time, some adjustments, or a pivot. And when that happens, it can lead to a successful entrepreneur who is right, not lying, when she tells others that sticking to it was essential.

The hard part is figuring out which story you’re in. There is no virtue in sticking to a plan that isn’t working. And there’s no success in sticking to a bad business that isn’t working. And sticking to it can be equivalent to running your head into a brick wall, over and over.

3. The Cult of the Business Idea

Most of us seriously overvalue the role of the business idea, as if a good idea guarantees success (it doesn’t) and a mediocre idea, or old idea, or copying somebody else’s idea guarantees failure (they don’t).

Apple wasn’t the first personal computer manufacturer, Google wasn’t the first Internet search engine, and Starbucks wasn’t the first upscale coffee place. Excel wasn’t the first spreadsheet. The new Mini-cooper, a new version of a cool car from the sixties,  followed the Volkswagen idea of five years earlier, a new version of a cool car from the forties. And Fiat did the same thing seven years later, with a new version of the Fiat 500. Good ideas get copied all the time.

The half truth here is that mediocre ideas are worse than good ideas and bad business ideas are disastrous. The good idea is an advantage, for sure.

What really matters in all the cases above and millions of others is not the idea, but the execution. The vast majority of new businesses rest not on a new idea but a new spin, new angle, new variation, or simply doing something better. Is that new restaurant you like a new business idea, or just good execution? Most businesses displace other businesses, instead of creating something new.

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Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.

25 Reactions
  1. It’s essential to me that I do what I love. But I hear you – if people aren’t willing to pay for it, then what?

    The sweet spot is doing what I love and getting paid for it. Not there yet. Still on that road. And it’s a long one (which often spills into part of your second point)

  2. So does that mean that we should love what we are doing even if you don’t love it initially? Learning to love something is better.

    • @Aira interesting question. Speaking of my specific case only, I had the good luck to love doing some software things, related to business planning, that other people need. But that didn’t mean I didn’t also have to do bookkeeping, and de-bugging, and sales calls, and — as the company grew — all those meetings in which I, the owner, had to play referee. I didn’t love that initially and I didn’t learn to love it; I put up with it because I loved the core, the main work, and the main value.

    • I’d rather do what I love than learn to love what I do.

  3. Very true on all 3 accounts. #3 is especially true. Execution is the name of the game in most situations. It makes a mediocre idea turn out great and takes good ideas to the stratosphere.

  4. Hi Tim.

    That was a nice piece of work. I certainly agree with those points.

    They are half-truths because one can see the ‘logic’ behind them. But the reality as much deeper than those simple statements. Successful marketing is key to making it work.

  5. Chester Warzynski

    There are no truths or lies. All propositions are simply language constructions derived from personal and collective experience and mindlessly repeated until they become instantiated in language and culture. They are generalizations — and there is a dark side or shadow to every generalization. Generalizations lack integrity. They are disconnected from context and when interpreted and applied literally may result in contradiction, absurdity and paradox.

  6. I think a lot of people forget and do what they are qualified at not, necessarily what they enjoy. Whilst it keeps them in the comfort zone, clients will see you aren’t enjoying what you do, which in turn then may suggest your work quality will be poor. Its a vicious circle.

  7. #3 is very very true, my business wasn’t a new idea, I just did it better than everyone else in the area so my business succeeds. Look at Richard Branson, pretty much all of his businesses aren’t new. He’s just providing them in a better way “arguably”

  8. 3p’s are important for all business, but listening to heart is good from career identification point of view, though mind plays an active role in rectifying what can be best for us.

  9. Great post, Tim. Kudos especially for Point #3 on ideas vs. execution. A great reminder and right on point. Thanks for the information and insight!

  10. Anurag Shrivastava

    i think the two reasons which fail businesses are poor marketing and poor product becoz almost every business(product) can get customers if it is marketed properly and doesnt fail to deliver value.. its more about how you play not what you play.. But yes the product should be relevant somewhat and at the right place.

    • well Anurag you said it right , looking at the current situation of Indian startups this is 100% true , today so many new business are seeing success because of heavy money been put in for marketing and product development , 90% of cases the ideas are same old but presented well and focussed to certain category first

  11. Hi Tim,

    I think the problem with #2. Passion, Persistence, and Perseverance is that it gets mixed up. The idea.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with not giving up. You should never give. But know when to quit on your bad idea and focus on something else.

    This is what gets mixed up. But it is a problem only the business owner can truly make.


  12. It’s very good, if you can ‘Do What You Love’. But sometimes it’s impossible. But I think we can find something good in every work we have to do or can try to make it better for us.

  13. Although the article on “half truths,” presents a logical arguments, the fact is that not many succeed, and “are happy long term,” without the first half of those truths. Yes, we need skills and guidance to go along with our passion; and we have to know when it’s time to let go and move on; as well as, doing the market research to pick the right idea of course; but nothing can replace passion, persistence or preserving.

    I doubt that those with massive email success hate what the do.

    • Thanks Steve. And yes, I agree, half truth as I wrote it meant there is an element of truth. Yes we’re better off doing something related to what we like, even if it isn’t exactly what we love, as my post suggests. But the thing about “nothing can replace passion, persistence or persevering” is that you can have all of that and still fail. It happens often, in fact. You might check out this post, from earlier today (by coincidence, I assume): http://timberry.bplans.com/beware-myth-persistence.html

  14. #2 resonates a lot with me, sometimes it’s even more important to know when it’s time to give up than to keep on hammering on something that clearly isn’t working. Also, I think that it’s perfectly okay to move on from a business idea that isn’t going well instead of keeping up the work while getting continuously frustrated and just ending up hating it.

    Great post!