The Business Press Problem

In a recent Tim Ferriss podcast with WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, Matt was asked about failure (this quote is at 35:17):

Especially in business press, we just see when people hit the home runs, we don’t see all their at bats. And, very rarely do we even know about all of the at bats they’ve had. So, just remember that. No matter how bad a day you think you’re having, there’s probably someone you admire who’s probably also having a bad day right this second, and you’re not alone.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for the last year or so. The more time you spend consuming blogs, magazines, books, and podcasts, the more your view can become warped. It feels like everything is soooo easy for everyone else and so hard for me. When in reality business is really hard for everyone. The thing is, I don’t necessarily blame the business press: it’s hard to get people to talk about failures, they don’t always make for good stories, and it can be a fine line between being seen as open and honest vs just complaining every time something doesn’t go your way.

Still, I can see how even with us someone could get a one-sided view. If you read the article about us in the Business Review you might think it’s been a cake walk for us. It’s easy to gloss over the fact that we’ve been in business for a decade, or that two years in we had to stop paying ourselves for three months, or that we’ve had countless ventures and projects fail, some publicly (see: Tastefully Driven, LockerPulse) and many more internally before they even got off the ground. Not to mention that almost every successful project/product/process has had days that have been long, hard, and frustrating before becoming a success.

I don’t have a simple answer because there is still a lot to be gained by consuming business media, but there are a few things that I think have helped me:

  • Recognize you’re not reading the whole story – a short article will never tell the whole story. I always try to remind myself of that while I’m reading. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it, it just means that you put it in it’s proper perspective. Reminding myself of this has helped me a lot.
  • Stick to short and long media – I’ve found that the worst articles are those 1 – 3 page stories. Quick, factual articles (this stock went up, this company released this new product, sales are down in XYZ industry, etc) are useful for keeping up with what’s going on in the business world. The long deep dives that you find in books, some magazines (like Wired), and especially in podcasts have a much better chance of giving you a complete well-rounded perspective. They’re often researched for longer periods of time, and the longer format allows for more opportunity to paint a more detailed picture.
  • Talk to other business owners – there’s no substitute for a good conversation over coffee or a drink with a fellow business owner. Those discussions always provide great perspective for me. No business is easy, no business model is without its downsides, everyone struggles with hiring and scaling, and every successful business owner works their tail off.