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Paul Burri: The Right Answer Syndrome

Some people who want to start a business aren't ready to do so and refuse to accept the truth

I am a SCORE counselor, and my job is to advise people who need business counseling of various kinds.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

Some people are in business and need advice on how to grow or how to solve a particular problem. The vast majority of clients are people who have an idea and want to start a business. Some people have a lot of technical experience but little business experience. Some people simply have an idea for a new business, but essentially no business experience and no experience in the particular field.

I have found that many people who want to start a business aren’t really ready to do so. Unfortunately, whenever I encounter people like that — and I am so bold as to say so — they don’t like to hear it and will either argue with me or find another counselor who might give a different opinion.

I recently counseled a client who was suffering from what I call “the right answer syndrome.” In this case, the “right answer” is the answer that confirms and endorses whatever business idea or invention the client happens to have, whether it’s retailing chocolate chip cookies or inventing and developing chocolate-covered rabbit pellets.

This is the client who repeatedly answers, “Yes, but ...” to everything you say and may even admit that several prior advisers have said the same thing you’re saying. This is the client who will continue to go from one adviser to another until finally stumbling on one who will provide the “right answer” he or she is seeking. (I am often tempted to tell a client like this to ask his mother if he wants nothing but an effusive, positive opinion of his idea.)

I might add that this same client is often the one who needs $10,000, $25,000 or $100,000, but who has poor credit, no collateral, possibly no job, no family support and no way to pay back the expected loan, other than when and if his great idea becomes a million-dollar success — which, of course, he is sure it will.

I firmly believe that it is the moral responsibility of every SCORE counselor to tell such a client the unvarnished truth about the probability of success of the idea. I also firmly believe that if a SCORE counselor can convince the client not to continue with the idea when it has almost no chance of success, that, too, is a SCORE success story. We have saved the client from wasting time, effort and money.

Now I will get down off my soapbox.

P.S. The above remarks are my personal opinion and may not reflect “official” SCORE policy.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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