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Small Business Digest



Entrepreneurs Should Use Common Sense In Their Decision Process

These days, people can download an app for almost anything.

Need to track a delayed business-trip flight? There’s an app for that. Need to check on how much traffic the company Web site is getting? There’s an app for that. Want to update an important Word document or Excel file on the fly? There’s an app for that, too. Need a workday procrastination break centered on how many levels can be conquered in a game involving some very angry birds? Yes, there’s even an app for that.

Unfortunately (and perhaps not surprisingly, given the silly nature of some of these technological “advances”), there’s still no app for good, old-fashioned common sense—that, says Michael Feuer, is something no one in business can afford to be without.

“Technology has made many aspects of business more convenient and cost-effective,” says Feuer, cofounder and former CEO of OfficeMax and author of the new book The Benevolent Dictator: Empower Your Employees, Build Your Business, and Outwit the Competition (Wiley, 2011). “But it certainly hasn’t done anything to lessen the accuracy of the Voltaire quote that goes, ‘Common sense is not so common.’”

Indeed. There’s no shortcut or substitute for developing the kind of business horse sense that can help people avoid angering an investor, mistreating a customer or making any other ill-advised decision. All people can do is let experience be their teacher—or at least learn from those who’ve walked the business-building path before.

Feuer started OfficeMax with almost no money and built a $5 billion company in a relatively short period of time. Now he’s working to build that same success as founder and CEO of his new venture, Max-Wellness, a health and wellness retail chain.

Feuer covers many no-nonsense leadership lessons in his new book, aimed at entrepreneurs and others who simply want to lead like them. The book lays out the leadership methods readers can use to build their businesses or boost their careers, empower their employees, and outwit their competition.

 “The main reason to develop your own common sense and to make sure those you work with have it is that its presence covers a multitude of sins,” Feuer says. “When you have this elusive trait, you don’t have to know everything there is to know about being successful in business. That’s because common sense compels you to think before you act—and you’d be amazed by how few people are able to do this.”

Feuer offers these five commonsense essentials to master before people do anything else:

Count to 10 before hitting “send.” The average executive nowadays receives more than 100 daily e-mails, and spends more than eight hours a week on electronic communications. There’s bound to be a situation when someone wants to resort to sending a nasty e-mail to get a point across to an employee, vendor or customer who has been upsetting. Feuer’s advice: Take a breather before pressing “send.”

“That e-mail you’re about to send is permanent—unlike your momentary anger,” he notes. “Wait until you’ve cooled down and can send a measured, carefully worded e-mail or, heck, go have a face-to-face conversation with the person. You might think everyone knows to do this, but sometimes our hot heads can get the best of us. It’s best to learn to restrain yourself.”

Know what the deal is with deals. Some of the world’s best entrepreneurs, businesspeople and salespeople got into their respective careers because they love the thrill of beating out the competition. Unfortunately, that important motivating factor can sometimes be blinding, making it impossible for them to make a business decision based on common sense, Feuer says.

“Before every sale, new hire, big investment or any other important business decision, take a moment to make sure you’re going after the best business opportunity and not just so you can say wow or you did it,” he says.

Zip it. Age-old advice lasts for a reason—it’s good advice. That’s why “think before you speak” still holds up today. Again, the same boldness and exuberance that drives successful businesspeople to big wins can also drive them to say some pretty ill-advised things before they stop to think of the ramifications.

“You might be well on your way to a great business deal and talk your way into trouble with an inappropriate remark or other TMI- [too much information] influenced comment,” Feuer says. “The bottom line: Say only what needs to be said. Zip it before you talk yourself into trouble.”

Don’t invest in fantasies. Bernie Madoff delivered seemingly impossible gains to his clients, and they proved to be exactly that—impossible. He’s joined by the many bad hires that promised big results but never delivered or the seemingly profitable business partnerships that have been brokered only to end in lawsuits and court battles or simply complete failure.

“If something seems too good to be true, it usually is,” Feuer says. “Don’t invest in fantasies. I’m not saying one should be a diehard cynic in business, never trusting anything anyone says—instead, trust but verify. Research, research, research when you’re about to make an important decision, whether you’re taking on a big customer, making a new hire or forming a partnership. And remember, if those folks are indeed worthy of your trust, they’ll understand why you want to check them out.”

Always have a fallback plan. Though you shouldn’t let what Feuer calls Fear of Failure (FOF) dictate every move, people can and should channel it to help them stay one step ahead of potential problems, which, if not avoided, could become painful—or worse. A healthy respect for failure evolves into a discipline that leads to having myriad contingency plans—A, B, C and, sometimes, D—for when things don’t go the way people expected.

Feuer writes that the initial concept and start-up work for Max-Wellness began in September 2008, at just about the same time as the market started to tank. Real-estate values worldwide collapsed quickly, and corporations began dropping like flies. Availability of capital almost instantly dried up. To make matters worse, the supply chain began to splinter, as suppliers from big to small experienced a sudden cash crunch. Panic and uncertainty became the currency of the moment.

“The trick is to figure out how to minimize the pain during difficult periods, and then maximize the opportunity that the problem presents,” Feuer says. “In October 2008, I called a timeout on my plans for Max-Wellness, but I wasn’t ready to shelve the idea altogether. My admittedly sometimes skeptical team and I got to work on developing ideas on how to create a funding vehicle that would allow us to forge ahead with our plans. It took a willingness to move from Plan B to Plan C and so on, but we got there, and so did Max-Wellness.”

No doubt about it: Without common sense people risk making costly mistakes on a daily basis. And if they’re thinking it’s something they’re either born with—or not—Feuer disagrees. It can be a learned and developed skill.

“No, it’s not as easy as simply buying a commonsense app,” he concludes. “Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone will ever develop that one. But you can learn from the experience of others, and that’s a resource that’s free (or nearly so). By reading up on success stories and cautionary tales, talking to lots and lots of people, and simply practicing the art of slowing down and thinking things through, you’ll start reaping the benefits of common sense and clear thinking before you know it.”

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