I worked on an international securities matter a few years ago and had to travel to Hong Kong to meet with a client. While I was there, I bought a dusty old book of Chinese proverbs . I had long forgotten about it until I stumbled across it several months ago. I recently sat down and selected the ones that resonated with me the most and came up with a few examples.
While the proverbs may not resonate with everyone, they are particularly well-suited for lawyers and business people who often lose sight of what’s important. I hope you enjoy them and can apply some of them to your daily life.
Here they are:
7. A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t fix it is committing another mistake.
We all make mistakes. Admit them. You learn more from what you do wrong than from what you do right. Denying mistakes or hiding them leads only to consternation, and that misguided effort will come back to bite you much more viciously than the original error. When a colleague of mine erroneously filed a legal memorandum citing a repealed statute, she immediately called the judge’s chambers upon discovering the error and filed an amended memorandum. You know what happened? Absolutely nothing. Even federal judges understand we all make mistakes. By taking swift action to correct the mistake rather than hoping the judge would not notice, the attorney avoided a much grander error and gained the respect of the judge in the process. In life, integrity is everything. Never let a mistake compromise yours.
6. A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.
We’ve all been there. We’ve had a great idea that just wouldn’t come together like we had hoped. Breaking past these obstacles are what set great businesses apart. Meticulous fine tuning and expert attention to detail are the hallmarks of excellence. Consider Apple. After enduring monumental setbacks in the early development of its yet-unknown music player, Apple pressed on to release the industry-shattering iPod. Despite all its success, Apple continues to tweak and polish its product line. Just when you thought it could not out do itself, Apple released the iPad, which has already surpassed the iPod’s first-month sales numbers. Friction and setbacks are part of life. Learn from them and you’ll blaze past any obstacle.
5. To guess is cheap. To guess wrong is expensive.
In other words, don’t guess or assume–do your research. This is applicable across all professions. For lawyers this may mean, actually looking up a point of law that you think goes your way. For accountants, this may mean double-checking that tax code provision you think still applies. And for retailers this may mean reexamining that global marketing strategy you think will succeed in every market. Coca-Cola learned this lesson the hard way when it first tried to market its name in China as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Only then did Coke research 40,000 Chinese characters to find a close phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth." Don’t guess. It will cost you.
4. Failure is the foundation of success and the means by which it is achieved.
Failure’s capacity to teach is exactly why venture capitalists often look for managers to run startups whose résumés include experience at failing. While this may seem counterintuitive, it makes perfect sense. The hands-on lessons learned from failure are priceless and almost impossible to replicate in business school. Look beneath the surface of many great business successes, and you’re sure to find a trail of failures that preceded them. Thomas Edison going through 10,000 different filaments before he came up with the one that worked is a textbook example of success through failure. Failure is both helpful and necessary–it provides the feedback that points the way to success. We’d all be reading in the dark but for the success of failure.
3. An inch of time is worth an inch of gold, but it is hard to buy one inch of time with one inch of gold .
Efficient use of time is the hallmark of a streamlined—and profitable–business. UPS is a pioneer in the field of time architecture. Ever notice that their trucks make mostly right turns? They discovered that a truck idling while waiting to make a left turn wastes precious fuel and more importantly, time. By eliminating the left turn where possible, productivity skyrocketed saving the company at least $10 million per year. For lawyers, this may mean eliminating unnecessary conferences. For retailers, this may mean investing in inventory control software to reduce time wasted physically counting inventory. For manufacturers, this could mean consolidating a three step process into one. What’s your left turn?
2. If you want to know your past-look into your present conditions. If you want to know your future-look into your present actions.
So you’re business has been in a rut or has never gotten off the ground. Sounds like a great opportunity to turn things around, as this proverb counsels. Examine your present situation. Is there something that you are doing or better yet—not doing? What actions can you take that will speed you through the tipping point? For years, Cadillac was identified with stodgy retirees until the company re-evaluated its actions—in this case designing outdated cars. By implementing innovative design concepts, it captured the imagination of a new generation. Their present success is a direct result of applying the wisdom of this proverb. If a 108 year-old company can successfully reinvent itself, so can you.
1. Make happy those who are near, and those who are far will come.
All successful businesses deliver superior client service. This proverb captures the essence of what it means to focus on your current client base with laser beam precision. Be fanatical about great service. Focus on the small and the big will follow. The most successful law firms strive to insure that their clients get the most consistent and best possible service experience they can. One top 100 firm retains independent third-party professionals to conduct client satisfaction surveys. Other law firms have developed service teams dedicated to serving specific clients or specific industries so that they become experts on those they serve.
Don’t just satisfy customers, amaze them.