The fool’s tax is the premium you pay when you don’t know what you’re doing. The most obvious example is overpaying for something because you haven’t done enough research to know what the price should be. A harder to quantify but more common version involves the time, energy and opportunities you lose when you rely on meaningless business advice.
There’s no shortage of useless business advice floating around the web. We are going to focus on three particularly pernicious examples. These approaches sound good at first. They appeal to our desire to succeed. They seem doable, easy even. Unfortunately they don’t work.
The Field of Dreams Deception
This gem is named for the 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner. Costner plays an Iowa farmer who hears a mysterious voice that says, “If you build it, they will come.” After he converts his cornfield into a baseball diamond, the ghosts of great players of the past materialize in the magical field to play again.
It’s a beautiful movie, but what does it have to do with bad business advice?
The problem is the phrase “build it and they will come.” When this mantra pops up in a business setting, it hints that if you can dream up a good idea for a product or service, all you have to do is develop it, offer it, then sit back and count the money.
In the world of local history and tourism the Field of Dreams Deception often takes the following form. The director of a small museum comes up with what she believes is a fabulous concept for a new program. She retreats to her office and spends hours developing and promoting the event. The big day arrives and turnout is dismal.
She is disappointed, shocked and confused. It was such a great idea. What went wrong?
The director skipped the most critical step in tour and event creation. She did not get a sense of what her audience wanted before she started planning the program. She could have sent a survey to her mailing or membership list, presented two or three possible program ideas and allowed respondents to suggest other topics. She could have asked people on social media what they were interested in or talked to the folks who visited the museum.
When you know what kind of programs people want and you use that information to build your next event, they will indeed come.
The Be Amazing Delusion
This annoying platitude suggests that the secret to succeeding in business or anything else is to be sufficiently perky. As far as program design goes, the Be Amazing Delusion fails because, like the Field of Dreams Deception, it does not take the customers’ desires into consideration. It implies that it’s all about you and your performance. Of course you should always create the best programs and events you possibly can. But that does not guarantee success. If you’re not in touch with what your audience wants and you offer programs they don’t care about, the only thing that will be amazing is the magnitude of the flop you’ll have on your hands.
The Be Everywhere Fallacy
Follow this ridiculous piece of advice if you have unlimited time and energy to devote to meaningless social media tasks such as racking up Twitter followers all over the globe. I am a great fan of social platforms. I believe that knowing how to properly use digital media to connect with your audience and potential audience members is a critical skill. However, you need to be strategic in your approach.
Back in the pre-web dark ages, we asked whether our customers were more likely to see a newspaper ad or hear our pitch on the radio. Today we need to know what platform the people we hope to reach use most. If they are on Facebook, go there and stop screwing around on Snapchat.
Focus on one or two platforms and do a good job with those. Don’t worry about the others. Be aware that things may change. But there's no need to investigate every new social platform or app the moment it pops up.
The best way to dodge the fool’s tax is to listen to your audience and to find ways to offer the kinds of programs and events they want to attend. This approach is not sexy. It’s not new or exciting. It can’t be described as a “hack.” It requires effort. But unlike the meaningless advice that permeates the web, it really does work.