No Cheating On The Final Exam

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Remember high school? I bet at some point you either copied someone else’s test answer or discovered that your neighbor had copied yours.

Let’s ignore the ethical issues for a minute. As a practical matter, if we’re talking about a simple multiple-choice test where all you’re being asked to do is regurgitate memorized information, the real-life impact of cheating is probably zero.

On the other hand, the odds are good that cheating won’t work if the test question requires writing an essay based on reflection, analysis, and genuine understanding.

After all, teachers are likely to spot identical essays. And if they ask the writers a couple of simple questions, it’ll be immediately obvious who’s actually thinking and who’s just copying.

It occurred to me recently that the same truth applies to business. I’ve held some senior positions at several businesses over the years, in both big and small companies. Almost all of them struggled with direction–what they were going to be when they grew up.

And without fail, every single one of them desperately looked at what other companies were doing to fill the void, as if by copying what everyone else did they could get an A on the test.

I see some wellness businesses do the same thing.

They see a marketing campaign that’s working well for a completely different business, with a completely different target customer….so they copy it.

These businesses notice that Bob Greene’s Total Body Makeover book sold like hotcakes after being mentioned on a TV show–so they devote all of their efforts to trying to get their new fitness book on that TV show. They see a pricing strategy that works for Wal-Mart…so they copy it. They offer weight management programs and copy the pricing and marketing from Curves, or Weight Watchers, or Jenny Craig. They copy the discount deals offered by national health club chains like Bally’s or LA Fitness, even though they’re going after completely different prospects with vastly different health and fitness concerns.

Never mind the fact that, unlike Wal-Mart, you don’t have access to thousands of budget-conscious shoppers. Never mind the fact that the Curves financial model assumes most customers stick around for a year and your business is built on long-term relationships. Never mind the fact that for every author who appears on TV, thousands desperately want to… but never make it.

And yet these same businesses wonder why they never make progress–why it seems to hard to win the right customers, make a decent profit, expand with creative new products and services.

Making a business successful is hard work. It IS the final exam. And it requires actual thinking, not just copying everyone else’s ideas.