Like everyone else, I have had conventional and valuable business advice along the lines of “be good; work hard; own up to your responsibilities, etc.”  I also had unconventional and more memorable advice from oddballs and lateral thinkers in the world of business who were equally, if not wiser than the conventional types.  Here are some:

  1. Make Small Mistakes: I was given this advice when I faced the dilemma of taking a course of action which was likely to be costly if it proved the wrong decision but very beneficial if it proved right. I was urged to go ahead and take the action but limit the exposure.  I still abide by this rule in many situations in preference to doing nothing.
  2. Avoid Lying, You Are Not Smart Enough: This is a multi-layered advice. The person who gave it to me was not averse to lying himself but, that’s another story.  Basically, investing in a lie could be costly because you may have to protect this investment with another lie and then another and before you know it, you are swimming in a sea of lies.  So, go ahead and lie if you think you’re such a good swimmer.
  3. Volunteer for Things You’re Not Good At: This counter-intuitive advice did not make sense to me until I tried it. Naturally, we volunteer to do things we are known to be good at but in the world of work and career development, what would the point be?  When you volunteer to carry out a task you are not familiar with, you stand to gain considerably more.  Firstly, expectations of you are low so, you will most probably end up exceeding expectations.  Secondly, you are going to be keyed up to research and investigate the topic very thoroughly so, you are less likely to make arrogant assumptions based on your so-called knowledge of the subject.  Finally, you will gain a new experience which will propel you further up the career ladder.  So, next time the opportunity presents itself go ahead, scare yourself!
  4. Never Mud-Fight with A Pig: Both of you will get dirty, you will lose, and only the pig will enjoy the experience. This rather cinematic advice is about fighting your opponent on your own terms rather than his/hers.  In other words, avoid confrontation until you have redefined the terms of the situation to suit you better than your adversary.
  5. Respect Your Hands: this is a figurative and literal advice. It is about the gestures we make to supplement our words when we communicate.  It is the deals we make and shake hands on.  It is the signatures we write, committing ourselves and our companies to promises and obligations.  It is the instrument we use to communicate complex and important topics when we write reports or type emails.
  6. Wear Jazzy Socks: The story goes like this: Many years ago, I joined a multi-national company based in the UK hoping for a career shift from what I was doing previously. During my first month as a newbie, I had to meet various departmental managers as part of my induction programme, with the final meeting being with the company CEO.  One day, I was taken to lunch at the company cafeteria by a couple of members of staff.  Suddenly, my two minders sat up straight and looked beyond my shoulder but I carried on talking unaware of what was going on behind me.  Suddenly, a large hand was placed on my right shoulder and a face appeared by my left shoulder and said: “I like your socks” then the hand and the face left before I could reply.  My companions explained the hand and face belonged to the “Big Guy” whom I was due to meet a week later to conclude my induction.  Obviously, they demanded to see my socks, which I duly obliged and they declared they wouldn’t be seen dead in such flashy socks.  The final induction session arrived and I went to see the hand and the face along with the rest of the CEO where I was allotted 30 minutes audience with him.  I emerged after two of the most exhilarating hours of professional discussion I ever had with someone who was a brilliant thinker and most articulate of business people I had the privilege of meeting.  His parting advice to me that afternoon was: “Keep wearing those jazzy socks”.  I spent 7 years at that company and thanks mainly to this CEO that I find my career since then defined largely by his guidance during those years.