The term “red herring” has an origin that that is not easily identifiable by most people.
In the 1800’s fugitives in England would rub a herring across their trail in order to divert the bloodhounds pursuing them. In the 1920’s the term “red herring” was used by American investment bankers…as a warning to investors…to describe preliminary prospectuses that were not complete and generally contained misrepresentations.
The metaphorical “red herring” has evolved, in the common parlance, to describe efforts to get a point accepted, or to win an argument, by diverting attention from the real issue.
A red herring can be a handy defensive ploy in a business negotiation, but sometimes small businessmen use what I call a “personal red herring”, which is essentially lying to themselves. A red herring is OK as a communication tactic, but when one is used personally, the worst kind of non-productivity is created and the risk is run that other well-made business plans and activities will be destroyed.
In Hamlet, perhaps the most famous play of William Shakespeare, this issue was highlighted in the warning given by Polonius to his son Laertes, when he said “This above all, to thy own self be true”.
The underlying meaning is that if you cannot be true to yourself and always tell yourself the truth, you can’t possibly be true to your dream. Your business dream.
We all understand that a false dream in an entrepreneurial enterprise is the trigger for a huge business meltdown just waiting to happen.
The most difficult challenge for any entrepreneur is knowing when to keep believing and when to move to other things. . The dilemma, in real terms, can range from the reasonableness of a small piece of the corporate business or marketing plan, to the entire validity of the underlying vision and viability of the business model.
One recurring crossroads faced by every entrepreneur at intervals in their business career is the infamous “go—no go” decision requirement. The answer is quite simple…found by asking this simple question: “Do I have a fighting chance or just a chance to fight?” The key to success in business, may be as simple as properly identifying the answer to that question.
The ultimate way to tell if you’re merely dragging a stinking fish across the trail of your personal dream is by “checking your position”.
There are a few ways to do this:
- Conduct enough due diligence to see if your plan has a chance of success. Just saying things will work out is a red herring.
- Identify you’re creating successful results. If nothing is working, telling yourself that only more hard work is needed is not reality.
- Is your business performing? Incurring costs without creating opportunity says you’re on the wrong trail or have the wrong dream.
Even with just small success the business vision may just need re-focus or extra effort. In order to evaluate this small business owners need all the facts they can get their hands on. And they need the truth from all parties…customers, suppliers, employees, consultants…but most of all from themselves.
Do not use red herrings in business in any way. Remember the quote above “This above all, to thy own self be true”.