English foxhunters once dragged a red herring in front of their hounds to distract them from the scent of the little furry guy. In time, this practice produced the metaphorical “red herring,” which is an attempt to win an argument by diverting attention from the real issue.
Introducing a red herring in a negotiation can be a handy defensive tactic. But sometimes we use personal red herrings, which is essentially when we lie to ourselves. It’s one thing to use red herrings as a communication tactic, but when we use them on ourselves, it’s unproductive at best and destructive at worst.
Shakespeare addressed this issue in perhaps his most famous play: Act I, Scene III, of Hamlet, Polonius said to his son, Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
If you can’t be true to yourself, you can’t be true to your dream. And a false dream is an entrepreneurial atomic meltdown waiting to happen.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge is knowing when to continue to keep believing and when to move on. And the dilemma on these horns could range from a small piece of your plan all the way to the actual validity of your vision and viability of your business model.
One of my mentors taught me how to face a “go—no go” decision by asking this question: “Do you have a fighting chance or just a chance to fight?” The key to success in business, and indeed in life, may be as simple as divining the answer to that question.
One way to tell if you’re dragging a stinking fish across the trail of your own dream is by doing something another mentor taught me: checking your position.Here are three examples:
1. Have you conducted enough due diligence to find out if your plan has a chance of success? Just telling yourself things will work out is a red herring.
2. Is your activity resulting in ANY success? If nothing is working, convincing yourself that you just need to work harder may be masking reality.
3. Are your assumptions performing? If you’re only consuming resources without creating opportunity, you must ask yourself: Am I on the wrong trail, or the wrong journey?
When even small successes can be found mixed in with the failures, you may have a vision merely in need of adjustments and worthy of extra effort. But in order to evaluate all of this, small business owners need all the facts they can get their hands on. And they need the truth from all parties — especially from themselves.
Use red herrings for foxhunting and negotiating, not on yourself.
Write this on a rock … This above all: to thine own self be true.