How to be Unhappy in Business?

In most of the 120+ Customers Included talks I’ve given in the last year, I’ve started with an inversion exercise. Instead of asking the attendees what they would do to delight customers, I ask what they would do to annoy and alienate customers. My audiences are surprised to discover that the question creates a rich, meaningful discussion.

With this blog post, I’d like to do a different inversion exercise.

I’d like to ask you:

                   What would you do to ensure unhappiness in your career? 

Here are three suggestions:

1. Be short-term oriented

If you want to increase your chances of being unhappy in business (and in life), be sure to focus only on short-term considerations. Many managers blame the public markets for this focus. They groan about the pressure of quarterly earnings and the way that forces them to play a short-term game. While it’s true that Wall Street can be unbelievably short-term oriented, short-term orientation is not a Wall Street invention.

Businesspeople who focus on the short term tend to lose money – they focus on random changes and fluctuations and miss the fundamentals. They also tend to be overly emotional and reactive. And certain emotions – particularly envy and arrogance – can blind us and lead us to make bad business decisions (perhaps like the people in the New Yorker cartoon above seem to have made.)

Managers who focus on a short horizon, also tend to be overly influenced by fads and hype. They are more likely to invest in bubbles and thereby weaken their business for the inevitable downturn. Worst of all, they seem to have no barometer for what matters. No values or mission to guide their thinking.

Patient, long-term oriented people seem to be grounded, focused on things that matter, and happier. Yet they are also much rarer. 

2. Ignore (or betray) friends and family

Friends and family ground us and make us better in many ways including as business leaders (assuming you have a family you like – no rule says you have to like or spend time with a family that mistreats you).

I’ve seen many people “trade-up” and ignore or betray friends and family as they make more money and achieve more success in their careers.  In this regard, my mother taught me well. 

I get much joy from friends who have known me for decades. I make an effort to stay in touch. Yet, I see many people shrink their circle of friends. My father did that and it made him a sadder, unhappy man. His example, as much as my mother’s (or perhaps more so), has helped me avoid the unhappiness that comes from ignoring or betraying friends and family. 

3. Don’t listen

The art of listening is deceptively simple. I recently recommended that all the members of the Councils participate in my spring cocktail party by focusing on listening rather than networking.

If you want to enjoy cocktail parties and life, I have one simple prescription: listen. Don’t focus on yourself. Listen to others.

On the other hand, if you want to increase the odds of being unhappy in business, then don’t listen. Don’t listen to your colleagues, your peers, or your customers. Be focused only on what you can get and allow your ego to be your guide.

These are three good ways to ensure unhappiness. Yet there are certainly more.

What about you? What would you recommend people do to ensure unhappiness in business?

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

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