Noble Experiment

Entrepreneur. Cocktail and spirit champion. Old world wine provocateur.

Entrepreneurship and The Art of Dodging Stupid Questions

*This picture looks like a midevil torturing machine, right? It’s not, it’s the bottling line at the old Evolution Brewery*

People ask me stupid things all the time.  And as a local business owner, I have to deal with constant questions about the state of the business and the constant stream of “I hope you’re doing ok” pity commentary.  Someone comes in on a Monday afternoon at 4pm when it’s quiet and they assume you’re going out of business.  If no one is here right now, they say to themselves, how is it possible that this place can support itself!

This is one of the dumbest assertions that you can make. A trend can’t be predicted based on a single data point.  If you have a cold day in January, it doesn’t disprove global warming. You need data to make assertions and to get good data, you need a better cross section of what’s going on, which you don’t have.

It’s never made sense to me why someone would ask a quasi stranger intimate details of something very important to them, and often do so as if they assume its not that the answer could be a good one.  If you think you’re cozy with the owner of your local watering hole and you want to ask stupid questions, let me give you a few things to keep in mind:

First, and most importantly, you’re not going to get an honest answer unless you’re an honest friend. If you are an honest friend, ask away and don’t be shy.  However, there is no incentive to tell a stranger about the state of your business, no matter how great or how poor it is doing. You, as an outsider, know very little about the business I’m in. Not because you don’t know the industry, which you may, or because you haven’t been in a similar situation, which you may have, but because you don’t know how our business is structured or how it runs or what our relationships are like with vendors or how we make decisions or who makes decisions or why decisions are made. If you ask me whether things are getting better or worse, there are 30 different answers to that question. And without more background, the answer you’ll get will be cookie cutter at best.

Additionally, it shows your lack of tact. I don’t go up to you and ask you how things are going with your significant other, or what your relationship is like with you parents, or how much your teenage daughter dislikes you, or how much you make at your current job.  Want to know why? Because it’s not my business and there isn’t anything I can do about it. Before you ask a stupid question say to yourself “what is the purpose of this and what am I going to do with this information.”  If it’s because you like to spread gossip or you just want to feel good about knowing, give it a rest.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you get it. You get these questions all the time and you’re annoyed. If you have a business that you care about, you understand the sensitive nature of the things you’re asking. As an entrepreneur, your goal is to maximize the success of your business and to protect it.  Competitive advantages only last until your neighbor starts doing the same things you are. When I meet other people who own restaurants I know that they’re not interested in my opinion unless or until they ask.  I’ll share my advice upon request.

So, there you have it.  A reasonable rant about a seemingly reasonable conversation that I find completely unreasonable.  Happy January!

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This entry was posted on January 12, 2012 by in Rants and tagged , , .
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