8 Ways to Lose in Business

UPDATED: January 9, 2023
PUBLISHED: January 9, 2023
woman working to prevent business from failing

What’s holding you back in your business or career? What could make your business fail? It may be something you are doing now without even realizing it.

The seed of this lesson comes from the former president of Coca-Cola, Donald Keough. He wrote a book about ways people lose in business entitled The Ten Commandments for Business Failure. A few of the points that I will share with you today come from that article.

Why do businesses fail?

So let’s get started. Here are some rules and attitudes to follow if you want to fail in business.

1. “Quit taking risks.”

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” Isn’t that a great saying? Anybody who has been in business realizes that risk is a big part of it. The moment you decide not to take a risk is when your competitors will pass you by.

It isn’t the incompetent who destroy an organization. The incompetent never get in a position to destroy it. It is those who have achieved something and want to rest upon their achievements who are forever clogging things up.

2. Rely totally on experts and research to make decisions for you.

Charles F. Kettering said, “Research is an organized method of trying to find out what you are going to do after you cannot do what you are doing now.” Of course, there are some wonderful consultants out there who add value to our businesses—the key word above is totally. When one allows what the experts say to totally govern decisions, that’s when trouble arises and businesses begin to fail.

3. Always ask yourself, “What would the founder have done?”

The simple fact is that no one knows what a great leader would do in a new set of circumstances—except that they would not lose. There simply is no eternal formula for success handed down through generations.

4. Concentrate on your competitor instead of your customer to fail in business.

I’ve read everything that has been written by the late John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins. Not only was he an incredible coach, but he was also an incredible teacher to his players and others who knew him.

In an interview, he was asked how he prepared his team for the next game. It was widely known in basketball coaching circles that Wooden wasn’t one to send his staff out to scout teams that were coming up on their schedule. He said, “The way to build a team isn’t to worry about your competitor; the way to build a team is to play to your strengths. If we play our game right, they will be playing our game. We won’t play their game.”

Wooden realized it’s much better to spend time making your team better than trying to anticipate what the other team was going to do.

Remember that the customer is king. The following customer service truths were compiled from various studies:

5. Administrative concerns take precedence over all others.

When the organization becomes bogged down with administrative issues and bureaucracy, growth can screech to a halt. Zimmerman’s Law says, “Regardless of whether a mission expands or contracts, administrative overhead continues to grow at a steady rate.” Isn’t that the truth!

6. “Be inflexible” if you want your business to fail.

A wise person once said, “Inflexibility is one of the worst human failings. You can learn to check impetuosity, overcome fear with confidence and laziness with discipline. But for rigidity of mind there is no antidote. It carries the seeds of its own destruction.”

Generating this flexible thinking requires an emphasis on high-quality and strategic thinking, a commitment to principles and a focus on learning. It also helps to have a cultural bias toward improvisation and innovation within your framework of principles, as well as a coherent strategy.

7. Look to someone else to do your thinking for you.

Author Gordon MacDonald calls this “mental flabbiness.” He writes, “In our pressurized society, people who are out of shape mentally usually fall victim to ideas and systems that are destructive to the human spirit and to human relationships. They are victimized because they have not taught themselves how to think; nor have they set themselves to the lifelong pursuit of the growth of the mind. Not having the facility of a strong mind, they grow dependent upon the thoughts and opinions of others. Rather than deal with ideas and issues, they reduce themselves to lives full of rules, regulations and programs.”

8. Fail in business by using the motto, “That’s good enough.”

Nothing is changed by a mediocre performance.

Complacency is a blight that saps energy, dulls attitudes and causes a drain on the brain. The first symptom is satisfaction with things as they are. The second is rejection of things as they might be. “Good enough” becomes today’s watchword and tomorrow’s standard. Complacency makes people fear the unknown, mistrust the untried and abhor the new. Like water, the person who is complacent follows the easiest course—downhill. They draw fake strength from looking back.

Excellence is not a policy decision. It is a mindset, an attitude, a way of thinking and behaving. We create a mindset of excellence in our businesses, our sports teams, our churches and our homes not merely by demanding or preaching excellence, but by modeling it. Once we have created a climate where quality is not just something we do but a feature of who we are as an organization, then the people in our organization will be inspired to go far beyond policy, far beyond duties and job descriptions, in order to maintain the organization’s reputation for excellence.

This article was published in September 2011 and has been updated. Photo by Dragon Images/Shutterstock

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.