Contrarian: 40 Business-Related Things I Do
My Own Way
by Marcia Yudkin
For my 25th-year business
anniversary in 2006, I published
"Insights From 25
Years in Business." For my 30-year
anniversary, I posted "My
30 Favorite Business Books." Now that Iím
reaching 40 years in business, Iíve compiled a
list of 40 ways in which I part company with
received wisdom or common beliefs.
1. "Bigger is better."
For many coaches and success gurus, progressing
in your career means nonstop growing of the
business and hiring a "team" to manage it. It
also dictates running large programs with
minimal personal help for participants. However,
the biggest learning program Iíve ever run had
just 12 people in it, and this size works best
I have no need or want for a
"team." When my business needs something I donít
do well (like design), I delegate it to a
short-term contractor. Furthermore, I feel the
popular slogan "go big or go home" encourages
grandiosity that serves no one and undeserved
scorn for honorable small businesses.
2. "Fake it until you make
it." Many coaches advise their mentorees to
set their fees high right from the beginning,
despite their lack of experience and know-how.
Likewise, a cleverly written bio can disguise
the fact that one is a novice.
Of course you need to put your
qualifications in the best possible light, but I
donít believe you should act as if you know what
youíre doing when you donít. Empty self-praise
backfires by promoting self-doubt and
self-sabotage. Donít let anyone talk you into
puffing yourself up in a way that is untrue and
doesnít match how you feel in your heart of
3. "Always get out of your
comfort zone." People who say this sometimes
add, "Life isnít meant to be comfortable, after
all." I enjoy learning new things, which may
feel frustrating, humbling and uncomfortable.
But I also see huge benefit in finding and
taking full advantage of your comfort zone.
For instance, if you write
better at home than at the office, you should
engineer your life so you have time and space at
home for writing. If youíre more productive
working alone than with others, you should pick
a career path that maximizes your solitary work
4. "Keep the peace."
Some people avoid any controversy, to an extent
that surprises me. I spent four years in a
graduate program that mandated disagreement and
reasoned argument as the route to better
As a result, it takes me aback
when someone says they wonít publish my guest
blog post or my blog comment because it would
spark debate or because of a supposedly
aggressive tone. They prefer sappy, relentlessly
supportive exchanges so it looks like everyone
visiting their site thinks as they do. Don't be
afraid to take a stand when you feel it's
important and relevant.
5. "So-and-so screwed me!"
Before you go around blaming something or
somebody for a problem youíre experiencing, stop
and think: How did I contribute to the
situation? What did I do (or fail to do) that at
least partially accounts for the result that Iím
not happy about?
In discussing such issues with
clients, Iíve observed that most of the time, a
flashing danger signal or a standard policy of
theirs was ignored. When you hunt for what you
did that helped set up the unpleasantness, you
can learn something that makes similar setbacks
less likely in the future.
6. "Intuition is woo-woo."
When I talk with clients, Iíve had the
experience of knowing things about their
situation that I was never told. This isnít a
psychic phenomenon. As explained in my book
Inspired!, intuition involves inner
knowledge based on real-world but non-conscious
input over a long time.
We often know things without
knowing how we know. Itís not a rare talent or
anything other-worldly. Some people, including
me, simply pay more attention than others to
7. "Change with the times."
I have clients and contacts who have
followed me for 30 years, partly because Iíve
stayed true to my core talents instead of
chasing fads, trends or fleeting opportunities.
When I lived in Boston, I
watched a few people who attended the same
networking events as I did change their business
identity every few months. Silicon Valley
approvingly calls this a "pivot," but it seemed
to make others confused and mistrustful of the
8. "Early adopters stay out
front." Iíve achieved my share of firsts,
including creating the first author website for
Penguin USA and being published in the first
issue of a new section of the New York Times.
But I never buy or do anything because itís new
and being buzzed about. Technologically, I avoid
recommended upgrades as long as I can because I
find them annoying and beneficial more for the
companies than for users.
9. "Perfect is the enemy of
good." You will never catch me following or
recommending this popular maxim, which holds
that itís better to finish something mediocrely
than to take the time to do it right. On the
contrary, for me professional excellence is
always worth striving for.
When someone is paying me,
they deserve my best effort. If something
represents me, it should likewise be my best
work. Thatís one reason why I donít have a blog.
Where products are concerned, I donít believe in
throwing out a sloppy mess with the excuse that
itís a beta test.
10. "You must write fast to
be productive." French novelist Gustave
Flaubert, I once read, might spend all morning
to decide to put in a comma - and in the
afternoon would take it out. Iím not that poky,
but Iím not sure Iíve ever written more than
three pages in a day. So what? If you write
consistently, day after day, pages pile up.
I talk a lot about this
perspective in my audio course,
"Become a More
Productive Writer." Being a tortoise rather than
a hare when it comes to writing has not had any
negative impact on my career.
11. "Donít waste time."
Since grade school Iíve been a champion
daydreamer. And my studies of creative
trailblazers confirmed that loafing around
between stints of concentrated work boosts
insights. After I finish a big project, I
sometimes hole up somewhere with a random stack
of books and a notebook. Ideas tumble out of me
like gems from a newly dug-up Egyptian tomb.
Washing dishes, driving
someplace alone and taking a very, very long
shower are other activities that bring on
breakthrough thoughts and fresh intentions for
12. "Just power through and
do it." When it comes to tasks I dislike,
Iím a wimp. Iíd much rather spend energy trying
to find a way to make the task tolerable than to
force myself to do it. After all, if a task
comes up over and over again, like cleaning (one
of my bugaboos), forcing yourself to do it can
add up to a whole lot of unpleasantness.
One tactic that helps me a lot
on this: Whenever I have a thought like "Yuck, I
should really sweep my office floor," Iíll pick
up a broom and attack the problem right then.
That feels less onerous to me than looking at
"clean up" on a to-do list.
13. "In college, learn an
immediately marketable skill." Iím still
grateful for my liberal arts education at Brown
University, which allowed me to explore wherever
my changing interests led me, with pass-fail
grading for four years. Primarily I learned how
to learn, how to reason, how to read critically
and how to write a convincing argument.
This prepared me for life much
better than if Iíd pursued seemingly more
practical studies. I feel sad when I see
affluent parents insist on narrowly job-related
majors for their kids.
14. "You already know
enough." Decades after college, Iím still
learning. In the past year, Iíve delighted to
learn things about the English language that I
did not know, such as the origin of "the royal
we" or why Shakespeare is easier than some other
authors to translate into other languages.
I read widely, and it often
happens that Iím able to incorporate something
that seems wildly far from business into a
marketing piece. Someone like Pete Buttigieg,
who learned Norwegian just to be able to read a
certain author in the original language, wins my
15. "Forget that outdated
stuff!" Things change so fast in todayís
world, how could something published five years
ago, let alone 50 years ago, teach anything
valuable? Well, I learned much of what I
understand about marketing by listening to
decade-old conferences on audiocassettes where
marketing experts shared general advice and
tackled someoneís real-world challenges during
so-called "hot seats."
In addition, I could name half
a dozen books from the 1930ís that contain
valuable perspective for any ambitious marketer
with an open mind. Certain principles of
persuasion havenít changed since the time of the
ancient Greeks and Romans.
16. "Those who can, do;
those who can't, teach." George Bernard Shaw
wrote this more than a century ago, and Iíve
heard it recently quoted by people urging that
we learn only from those who have achieved the
success weíre aiming at. This doesnít fit my
experience in the slightest.
Of my four best writing
mentors, not one was a successful writer himself
or herself. Two were magazine editors, one a
radio producer and the other a college writing
instructor. Many of my copywriting peers teach
seminars or coach novices on the side because we
enjoy it, not because weíre failures who canít
find other paying work.
17. "Come one, come all."
Should we accept every client who wants to
work with us? Iím happier being choosy. I donít
have enough patience for emotionally needy
people or for situations where multiple people
will be weighing in on a project.
In addition, when someone
requires nagging to pay me I will rarely work
with them again. On the other hand, I donít mind
it when clients have beliefs or backgrounds
quite different from mine. That often turns into
an interesting learning experience.
18. "Be ultra-accessible."
Being interrupted sabotages creativity and
productivity. So Iím never just a phone call
away, even for long-term or urgent-project
clients. Instead, my phone calls are
pre-arranged by email. Someone who canít make
their peace with that simply isnít a good match
19. "Bend over backwards to
please." While building a business, your own
sanity matters. Boundaries you set up, like no
last-minute assignments, weekend work crushes or
all-nighters, can keep you balanced and
productive. Yes, you may lose some clients with
such firm boundaries, but others will respect
you and plan accordingly. Remember that itís
impossible to do your best work when youíre
exhausted or overstressed.
20. "Likeability is
essential for success." Itís often said that
people do business with people they like. I
accept that. However, I do not accept that there
is a quality one must have called "likeability."
We all like different kinds of people! Some of
us like chatty, friendly folks most. Others
prefer to deal with those who can abide long
silences and who speak only when they have
something worth saying.
This fact gets overlooked in
common advice to adopt a Ms. Popularity type of
personality: someone chipper with
small talk. Iím not a grump or curmudgeon, but
thatís not me. And I have quite enough clients
who are content with a minimum of palsy-walsy
If youíve enjoyed
reading so far, would you do me the
favor of sending a like-minded friend or two
a link to this page, or posting about it on
social media? Thank you.
Read Part Two, with
items on marketing, communication and money.