“It couldn’t hurt.”
That’s what you say right before you commit to something that might help move you along towards your goals, something that might solve a small but nagging problem, something that might help you avert a future catastrophe that may or may not ever happen.
Should you do this extra little thing? Will it actually help you in any way?
“It couldn’t hurt.”
Actually, it could. Every unnecessary or low-priority chore you take on will steal time away from the important, high-priority work you’ve set for yourself.
Add enough of these, and you’ll be overwhelmed by endless busy-ness and disappointed clients.
“It couldn’t hurt” to have lunch with that pushy consultant you met at the mixer. Except you were going to use that hour to work on marketing so you’ll have business next quarter.
“It couldn’t hurt” to try marketing to that other demographic. But you’ve already found a lucrative niche and you have plans to make your products even better and sell more at a higher price.
“It couldn’t hurt” to spend time and resources on developing that new feature. But have you done any testing to find out whether any of your clients want or need that extra feature? Will some of them be turned off by it?
The Never-Ending Room
There is a room in my rental property that we’ll call The Office. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the building. It’s like the original builder had some leftover space, and didn’t know what to do with it.
A realtor friend of mine referred me to one of his best contractors, who installed a closet and some shelves in this room. “Tenants love to have storage space,” he said.
When the work was almost finished, the contractor made a suggestion. “It couldn’t hurt to put a window in here. Let in a bit of light.”
I agreed, and the lit-up room looked so good that my friend thought we could make it into an office. “Just put in a nice floor and someone could have their desk set up by the window.”
There happened to be several boxes of hardwood laminate flooring that the previous owner left behind, so all I had to pay for was the labor. The Office was born.
The contractor mentioned that he had another client who was trying to sell her washer and dryer. “It couldn’t hurt to offer your tenants laundry.”
The appliances were going for a good price, so I offered to buy them and tried to figure out where to put them.
The only place that made any sense was in The Office.
I know an electrician who does amazing work when he’s not busy in the film industry, so I had him add GFCI outlets to The Office. Ive got decent soldering skills, so I put in the copper plumbing myself. Now we were ready to convert The Office into a laundry room.
Except the dryer runs on gas. So we had to install a gas line.
Then the owner of the washer and dryer decided not to sell.
Now we have a beautiful office with a dark rosewood floor. But there are gas, water, and sewer lines coming out of the walls. I gave up several business opportunities to work on this quirky place because “It couldn’t hurt.”
Our goal was to have the place finished and rented out by April 1st. If I had stayed with the original plan, offered a storage room instead of The Office/Laundry Room, we would have been right on schedule.
You should really only have two choices
I should have stayed the course, and just had a storage room. Or, I should have been ambitious and decided at the start that we would give our tenants all kinds of great amenities, such as laundry.
“It couldn’t hurt” is a sign that you’re compromising, taking the middle route. You should do something because it is awesome and inspiring, or because it is absolutely necessary. Not because “it couldn’t hurt.” That’s not a good reason to do anything.
The “Battle” of the Caudian Forks
Everyone in business should know the story of the Caudian Forks. I’ll talk about this a lot in my book, but here’s the story in a nutshell:
The bulk of the Roman army was trapped in a narrow gorge. Their enemies, the Samnites, were advised to either kill every single Roman, or to let them all go free with their arms and unharmed.
The first choice would have depleted Rome of her military strength for many years. The second choice would have ensured friendship with the Romans, and possibly ended the war.
But the general did neither of these. He let the Romans go free, but first he had them stripped and humiliated. As a result, the Roman army was angry and eager for revenge, and there were plenty of troops to carry out this vengeance.
The moral of the story is that taking the middle way eliminates all the benefits of the two logical choices, and brings on all the negative consequences of both.
Whenever you find yourself saying, “It couldn’t hurt,” be forewarned that it probably will.