We run lots of stories about other people's mistakes. Marketing gimmicks gone wrong, public relations stunts that end in disaster, big-time business blunders. In fact, they are our most popular stories.
You'd think a site dedicated to helping people start their own businesses would be especially popular for its inspirational success stories – and we run lots of them. But, for some reason, it's other people's failures that really draw readers in.
So, why the interest in the failure of others? Is it pure schadenfreude? Do we simply delight in the misery of others?
Or is it less sinister than that? Perhaps it's simply that small business owners and future entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for warning signs and cautionary tales. Maybe our "mistakes" stories serve as modern fairy tales – warnings of customer service wolves and evil accounting witches lurking around every corner.
Here are a few common fairy tale characters to watch out for at your business.
The wolf in disguise. – Whether it's a wolf in sheep's clothing or one dressed like your grandma, in modern business that wolf represents employees or business partners who are not showing their true colors. They behave like angels in front of you, but once your back is turned, they're up to no good. It's possible to tame the wolf, but first you have to know who it is.
The wicked witch. – Who's the witch in your business world? Clearly, it doesn't have to be a woman. It's the person who's constantly trying to control how your business is run, even if it's not in the company's best interest. Perhaps it's the employee who's always stirring up trouble with gossip or the one who's always scheming to make things more difficult than they need to be. Figure out who this person is and find a way to get rid of him or her.
The naïve innocent. – In fairy tales, it's usually a young girl that naively end up in trouble – Goldilocks, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood. In real life, though, it's anyone in your office who doesn't have the good sense to look at the bigger picture and understand their role in making things work. While it might be harmless for a while, the employees that don't look beyond their own cubicle are the ones that will get into trouble if you ever need to send them out into the forest on your behalf.
The fairy godmother. – This the person at your company who swoops in and solves everyone's problems. Who doesn't need one (or three) of these? Just make sure you people don't become so dependent on the fairy godmother of the office that they forget how to do things for themselves, because eventually, even those benevolent glitter-winged pixies are going to need a vacation.
The knight in shining armor. – If you own a business or manage one, you probably fantasize that this is you – the person who comes to the rescue and saves the day. More likely than not, though, it's probably the person who gets the least attention. In fairy tales, no one talks about the prince or knight until the end. At your business, it may well be a person who sits in the back office who doesn't get much attention until times get tough and everybody needs rescuing. Make sure you recognize your "knights" and reward them handsomely.