People don't like to feel stupid. Business Principle Number One.

People like to feel smart. This has to be one of the most important principles in business but you rarely hear anyone talk about it. Its corollaries are equally important. People want to feel smart. People don’t like to admit if they do feel stupid. People will both consciously and subconsciously avoid situations where they might feel stupid. These are of course gross generalizations about humans from my personal experience. I’m sure many great examples exist of people who live each day basking in the wonder of things they don’t know and are attracted to people, things and situations that they don’t understand. My experience in business tells me this is not common and we are safe to act on the assumption that all people like to feel smart.

Just for fun, I did some quick research. Google provides about 3.8 million results for “feel stupid” (using the quotes to find only the places where those words are together). A similar search for the words “I like to feel stupid” provided exactly 4 results.

OK, not the most earth shattering news in the world. What is earth shattering for me is how many times we make decisions in business that either don’t take advantage of this principle or leave out the idea completely. In future articles I’ll address more specifics but areas where this comes into play are negotiation, sales process, product design, packaging design, retail store design, employee development, web site design, marketing, and more.

Some of this idea is common sense and leads to good business practices such as, not talking down to your customers, make your packaging easy to understand, putting understandable signage in your store, web site design that allows potential customers to find what they are looking for, etc.

The deeper part of this principle involves examining everything you do from the customer's perspective. The secret is to get your mind outside the things that you would naturally see or the things you hear from customers who share with you and "listen" to what isn't being said.

The first priority is to look at your processes for anything that is set up under an adversarial paradigm. Where you making the assumption that for you to be successful that you need to beat, convince, overcome, defeat, etc.? Being able to answer objections is important.  If your entire paradigm is based on the idea that you need to convince your potential business contact that they are wrong in order to do business with you, that is always an uphill battle.

Who wants to hear "You are wrong. You have made bad decisions in the past. I'm here to tell you about why your past decisions have been poor ones. (Even if you still feel they are good.) I'm providing you an opportunity to make a good decision even though you are the kind of person who makes bad ones."? Obviously you wouldn't use these exact words but this is exactly the core message of many business interactions.

Ponder a different idea. What if the idea instead is that your contact made good decisions in the past and you are now offering them a better opportunity? What if the dialog is more along the lines of "You are a good business person, you make good decisions, I can see the choices you have made in the past had a number of positive things about them. I want to provide you an opportunity to continue your pattern of good decisions by building on what you have already with an even better solution."

Consider situations where your potential business contact needs to go to their manager, supervisor, or owner for approval. Are they more likely to bring a message saying "I've made good decisions in the past and here's another!" or "I was kinda dumb when I made my previous choice but now I've got a good one." I can tell you the latter just isn't going to happen so why waste our time asking people to do anything that is remotely close to that.

Think about even the most basic interactions people have with your company. Try calling your company and exploring the phone tree. Are you presented with choices that are clear and make sense? Visit your company’s web site playing the role of some basic situations like trying to buy something, trying to get tech support, trying to find warranty information. Can you get where you need to in just a couple clicks? Take a step into a retail store. Do you instinctively know where things are located and which direction to head to find what you want? Walk into your favorite restaurant. Do you get eye contact right away letting you know that you will be taken care of soon? All these things are examples of ways that companies can make you feel smart.

The opposite is awkward, uncomfortable and makes potential customers feel stupid. Not only do these things make potential customers feel stupid but when they do, they will almost never let you know. They won’t fill out a survey, they won’t mention it, they will quietly leave and do anything they can to avoid that feeling. Once they have associated that feeling with your company, they will avoid your company.

In conclusion, explore what opportunities there are in your company, processes or individual business interactions to empower your clients, customers, and contacts. When you start looking at your business from this perspective you’ll find a plethora of opportunities to make your customers, contacts and even your selves feel smart, valued and respected. If your company is skilled in making its partners feel smart, there is no limit to what you can do.