3 Small Business Lessons Learned from Classic Literature

by / Thursday, 24 April 2014 / Published in Small Business Advice

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Small business advice can come from many different places, but books are one of the best. Literature can teach life lessons in every area, and business is no exception. Here are a few classical literary moments, as well as some lessons that savvy business owners can take from them and apply to their management strategies.

Don’t assume something is impossible. See for yourself. This principle is demonstrated in the Shakespeare favorite, Macbeth. Told by a troop of prophesy speaking  witches that he will reign until the Great Birnam Woods come to Dunsinane Hill, Macbeth assumes that he will be safe since moving trees are impossible, or so he thinks. In the end, his castle is overrun by the forces of his enemies, disguised by the branches of the trees he thought immobile. While, unless you are in landscaping, moving trees will most likely not concern you, the principle that is at work here is important for small business owners to understand. The person who claims that a certain breakthrough is impossible will almost never be the person who discovers how to make it work.

If someone isn’t qualified for a task, don’t let them do it, even if they claim to be ready. It’s common to have younger team members in the middle of being trained want to step up and take the reigns on larger projects. This is usually a good sign, but it’s up to small business owners to know what they are ready for and what they are not. In the Iliad by Homer, the mighty warrior Achilles refuses to fight for the Greeks, who are at the point of being forced to return home by the powerful Trojan army. Rather than watch his side lose, Patroclus, the young protege of Achilles puts on his armor and leads a rallying charge, but is killed in the process, which in the course of the plot leads to much grief on both sides. It’s an admirable quality to want to handle more responsibility, but if that responsibility is not yet what your team member can handle, don’t let them take charge when the consequences are not any less real for failure.

If you let hype guide your business strategy, be prepared to arrive after the crowd. In the American classic The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, the Joad family is uprooted from their home by a combination of drought and the encroachment of industrialized mass farming. Hearing that there are plenty of jobs in California, they embark on a journey half way across the country, only to discover that at every turn they have been beaten to the punch by hundreds of the displaced just like themselves. Similarly, business owners who hear about a new wonder strategy are more often than not already late adapters. Only those who make the effort to stay on the cutting edge will be able to get the full benefits of new innovations.

Photo Credit to Anthony on Flickr

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