(ps – they’re the five most important things you can learn about business)

I remember back in the day, I gave my “first” girlfriend Kathy a ring pop to ask her out. We were in 1st or 2nd grade. It totally worked. One problem – I had no idea what to do with a girlfriend once I had one. I just knew that it was an important social mandate since my friend Drew picked up his own girlfriend, Laura.

Later that week, I gave Kathy a bunny stuffed animal (because she reminded me of a bunny – big ears, small nose). She promptly broke up with me, whereupon I enacted my own form of “The Bachelor” and asked out and was rejected by every single girl in my Kindergarten class, one by one, right after the other – all on the same day.

Fast forward a few years to college, when my then-girlfriend broke up with me because I gave her a stuffed duck. Duck Drama, she called it – wherein my giving her a stuffed duck signalled some sort of overcommitment on my part.

You’d think I’d have developed an aversion to stuffed animals by now, but in truth – I thrive on random human decisions.

All my life, I’ve been a “social tinkerer”. I enjoy knowing how and why a social situation goes well or poorly, and since that day back in 1st grade, I’ve analyzed every single social interaction for clues as to why it went the way it went. I even went out of my way for an entire year to make every interaction an awkward one – just to learn how to diffuse an awkward situation and angry people.

The Bachelor provides a huge, shallow window into other people’s interactions – like people-watching at the mall on steroids. This season’s Bachelor is particularly interesting because most of the things we’re learning about Ben and his Bachelorettes can be applied to business.

Go Big Like Courtney

Fans of the Bachelor will cringe when I say that, but Courtney has so far:

  • Shown Ben the goods on multiple occasions – including skinny dipping!,
  • Gotten married to Ben in a mock wedding during Ben’s visit to her hometown,
  • Alienated almost every girl into hating her, leaving them so distracted that she can focus just on Ben,
  • Gotten Ben to profess his love -first-
Love her or hate her, she’s in the final two. Despite all of our cringing at home, she may very well end up with that final rose.
Courtney knows exactly what she wants and goes for it; it doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, feels, or wants – except for Ben. Her overt confidence has been foiled lately by a sort of crisis of conscience – her ability to play the game diminished when she was her only competitor. In essence, she lost her edge because she’d gotten into her own head – and you can see her faltering a bit more each week.
From a business perspective, Courtney is the ultimate. She’s Ari Gold. Savvy enough to deliver exactly what you need, but on her own terms. Behave like Courtney to win the day through brute force (and accept that other people will hate you for it).
In our social media world, we want other businesses, people, experts, and audiences to like us. It’s almost imperative. But look what happens when you don’t worry about playing nice – when your only concern is the customer, you can get a lot of positive attention very quickly.
Courtney’s lesson: Have confidence in yourself, but beware the ultimate competition: your stupid inner critic.

Care Like Kacie B

Everybody knows a girl with a heart as big as Kacie is gonna get her heart broken over and over and over again until she finds somebody worth her time and effort. She’s the mom and pop store you desperately want to see survive the recession – and not out of pity, but pure, unadulterated admiration of how much she cares.

Kacie is so passionate about what she’s doing that she gets lost in the moment. In most situations, it’s a beautiful thing – except that she didn’t strategize. Kacie was so caught up in having Ben there that she forgot her family might not have been behind her. And they weren’t.

Ben didn’t get her father’s permission to propose. Her mother didn’t want her to move away. Kacie’s own nature made others protective of her – even when she wanted to change on her own right, she was held back by people who thought they knew better.

Think about that – she wanted to change, but her fans wanted more of the status quo. Oh snap!

It’s OK to care like Kacie – about your work, about your clients, about your projects, and customer service. It’s OK to be Zappos. But be willing to assert your independence when you see resistance – when Kacie’s dad objected, she didn’t have the necessary conversation with Ben to stay in the game. She didn’t tell him that she’d have done whatever it took to keep him – and she ended up losing him.

Kacie’s lesson: Care – immensely, but be strong enough that you can take care of yourself.

Call It Like You See It Like Emily

Emily made what most would consider a fatal flaw – she told Ben about Courtney’s vindictive side while on a one-on-one date. Instead of going, you know, skinny dipping or making out with Ben or something.

Emily’s honest intent was incorrectly shunned by Ben – when someone tries to help you, you should listen. While Emily’s straight-out honesty should have endeared her to Ben, he was threatened by it instead. It ultimately cost her Ben, but she did the right thing.

Emily’s lesson: Your customer will not always want to hear the truth; be prepared to lose a few folks when what you say doesn’t jive with the “truth” as they know it.

Know Who You Are Like Jamie

Jamie was an interesting case. She’s shyer than most and having refrained from kissing Ben at all after several dates, knew she wasn’t meeting Ben’s “man-needs”. She decided on rose ceremony night (the night Ben picks which girls get to stay and which get the ax) that it was time to spice things up.

What ensued was the most awkwardly endearing makeout scene in televised history.

Jamie full-on straddled Ben and proceeded to give him a minutes-long instruction manual in how to hit that. And it was awkward. But it was also awesome and sweet.

Even so, nobody likes to be told they’re not good at something they think they’re good at. Jamie made Ben feel like he needed a kissing instruction manual – and if you need an instruction manual for step one, step two and three will probably involve a sherpa and GPS coordinates.

Jamie’s lesson: If something that should be stupid simple – like kissing you or paying you – is harder than it ought to be from the customer’s perspective,  you’re hosed.

Be Unapologetically Decisive Like Ben

Ben has repeatedly sent girls home before the end of the night. He’s sent home girls who he had the slightest doubt about, which makes some of us wonder why Courtney is still around. He’s said no -twice- to bringing back girls who he had feelings for.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m one of the final two Bachelorettes, I’m feeling pretty good that I really am Ben’s choice. He’s never hesitated to act on his intuition on who should be there and who shouldn’t.

Ben makes a decision and goes for it – then lives with the consequences.

Ben’s lesson: As a business owner, if you aren’t decisive in the face of amazing alternative choices, if you can’t stand behind your decisions and the consequences they bring – you might as well go home.

So there you have it – five lessons in running your business (that also happen to be the most important business lessons I know).

By the way, this post is part of the monthly Word Carnival series! What’s a Word Carnival? Check out our Word Carnivals site for more on the fabulously awesome Carnies bringing you small-business magic on the digital fairgrounds today!