Truth-telling, failure and other keys to business success

The Baltimore Sun

Is simple really better than complicated? Does being nice help you climb the corporate ladder?

Yes, argues Baltimore consultant James Dale in his new book, The Obvious: All You Need to Know in Business. Period.

Dale has worked in advertising for 25 years, including a stint as chief executive officer of the largest U.S. independent advertising agency, W.B. Doner & Co.

Dale and his business partner, Gar Richlin, now run a management advisory firm, Richlin/Dale, in Baltimore, helping startups and young businesses grow.

He is also an author, writing books on relationships and collaborating on business titles such as Bullies, Tyrants and Impossible People.

I spoke with Dale about his latest book, a compilation of principles and ideas he has collected over the span of his career. The tips are, well, pretty obvious, but they are a good reminder amid our ever-complicated personal and work lives.

There are a ton of management and how-to business books out there. Why did you write yours?

I've been in and around business virtually my whole career. I saw things that were done right and things that were done wrong. It became apparent that some of the most effective principles were not particularly magical or exotic but ought to be self-evident. But they're often ignored.

Perhaps we humans have a weakness for looking for shortcuts or secret formulas but avoid things that are right in front of us.

What are some examples?

The power of telling the truth. Honesty is a very powerful tool in business. When you have a difficult situation or you're behind a deadline, just telling your customer that you're late and why and what you're going to do to compensate for it, that's better than giving convoluted excuses. ... Companies and individuals who are candid with us, we respect and want to work with again.

Another principle I put in there is don't be a jerk. You can succeed by being nice and reasonable. It doesn't mean you're a wimp or you fold. ...

Another one we all know but it's hard to embrace: Failure is good. It doesn't feel good. But you can pull out of a failure what worked and what didn't work, because failure is rarely a 100 percent failure.

Something went wrong but not everything went wrong. What do I do next time? Then you have an opportunity to learn from the failure.

Everyone fails. In the book, I list some great failures.

Henry Ford forgot to put reverse on his first car. ...

There's a statistic that the average entrepreneur fails 3.2 times before succeeding.

What do you hope your readers take away?

I hope they do two things. I hope they see principles where they have an "ah-ha" moment and feel better about achieving the things they want to achieve.

Number two, I hope they look at them and say, "I have a couple of my own that work for me."

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