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When to Walk Away

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On September 4, 1962, the Beatles recorded what was to be their very first single—a song called How Do You Do It?, written by a songwriter named Mitch Murray. If you’re of a certain age, you’ve probably heard this song. But the version you’ve heard isn’t the Beatles version; it’s by another Liverpool band called Gerry and the Pacemakers. The Beatles begged their producer, George Martin, not to release their version because they wanted their singles to be Beatles originals—songs that they’d written themselves. (Plus, they hated the song; Paul McCartney said the Beatles would lose all credibility with their fans back in Liverpool if they released it.)

And all of this brings us to today’s Beatles business lesson:

You have to know when to say no.

It’s real hard to say no to business these days. In a challenging economy (and right now that’s probably too generous a term!), the temptation can be strong—almost overpowering—to grab any business that comes our way, whether it’s at the core of what we do or not. The plus is that you can get some short-term money; the minus is that, in so doing, you can lost sight of your long-term integrity. The Beatles could have released How Do You Do It? and had an immediate #1 hit (it was a #1 for Gerry and the Pacemakers). But then they might have ended up as nothing more than a one-hit wonder. By sticking to their values and their integrity, they set the stage for long-term success.

Now, if your choice is between building long-term success and feeding your family, by all means feed your family. For most of us though, this is an extreme situation even in today’s economy. Too often we take the short-term money not because of a genuine need, but because it’s just easier.

Years ago I was in a business partnership producing humorous corporate training videos. Although the business was ultimately successful, there was a time when things looked pretty bleak. At that time an opportunity came up to produce a video for a regional company. The deal would have brought us $65,000, which we certainly could have used. The problem was that we had a really bad feeling about the owner of this company. We just knew that if we worked with this person, we’d be miserable the entire time. After a lot of strained deliberation, we decided to walk away from the project. It was a tough decision, but I’ll always remember what my business partner said to me a few years afterwards:

“Any time I’ve done something just for the money, it’s always turned out to be the wrong decision.”

Difficult times bring strong temptations. In September, 1962 the Beatles were a young band who had just barely gotten a recording contract (after being turned down time and time again), and they desperately needed a hit single. But you have to know when to walk away.

Think of it this way: if your business were a rock and roll band, would you rather it be Gerry and the Pacemakers…or the Beatles?

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About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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