Good grief

Good grief

Normally, I don't use this column to dole out advice. Observations, sure. Rants, also. Random streams of consciousness, absolutely. But rarely advice. It's sort of a quandary for me. If I were a successful businessperson, having built a multibillion-dollar empire from nothing, I would feel more justified in handing out advice. But if I were presiding over a multibillion-dollar empire, why would I be writing a column in ARN? One of them paradox things.

My advice is this: flying aces need lots of root beer. It may seem nonsensical, but stick with me for a minute. It's actually kind of profound.

Curse you, Red Baron!

Think about this: Snoopy, the World War I flying ace, regularly flies sorties against his arch-enemy, Baron Manfred von Richtoffen. He is regularly shot down and has to make his way home through the trenches. Often, while crossing the French countryside, he happens into an inn, where a young Mademoiselle refreshes him with glass after glass of root beer. Once refreshed, he is ready to fly again.

Quite what happens to his Sopwith Camel is unclear, but he always seems to have a fresh one when he's ready to head out again. Don't ask too many questions, I say. The point is, despite the fact that he loses every time, he continues to refer to himself as an "ace", and never loses hope of winning one day. It must be the root beer.

Charlie Brown is another one like this. Lucy never lets him kick the football, but every time she challenges him to try, he's back again. His baseball team (almost) never wins a game, but every season he's out there on the mound hoping to turn it around. The kite-eating tree never gives him a break, but every spring he has a new kite. He has never succeeded, and shows little sign of success, but fear of failure does not stop him trying. He must have some root beer somewhere.

Contrast this with Linus, who every year spends Halloween night in a pumpkin patch, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. Before Halloween, he spends weeks writing letters to the Great Pumpkin and proselytising about it to his friends and neighbours. Then he sets himself up, often with another person roped in, and waits. He falls asleep in the night, and wakes up to find it's morning and the Great Pumpkin has not arrived.

Does he blame himself for having fallen asleep? No. Does he try to think of ways he could have done things better to increase his chances of seeing the Great Pumpkin next year? No. Every year he lays the blame squarely on the pumpkin patch, for not being sufficiently sincere. His own sincerity is never brought into question. A pumpkin patch cannot help its nature. He might stay awake better if he had asupply of root beer handy.

Doing business on the Internet is a bit like waiting for the Great Pumpkin. I've seen a lot of businesses, large and small, head into online enterprises purely on faith, expecting the big bucks to begin flowing pretty much instantly. The vast majority of them do not succeed. Sometimes it's just because the ideas didn't take off, but way too often it's because the companies lost their nerve. They didn't wait long enough, or they didn't put enough effort in - once you're in the pumpkin patch, you can't just sit there.

And when they fail, they all issue exactly the same press release. Every failed online start-up says it is planning to "focus on its core strengths" or some close variation. Read a few issues of ARN and you'll see it's true. What it means is "we got afraid of the risks we were taking, and we've gone back to the old business we had before". It's exactly what Linus does when he grabs that old blue blanket. "Core strengths" mean security, sure, but they do not lead to future growth.

The companies that have a future in the online business model are those that fail, then risk again. The ones who will succeed are the ones who don't blame the Internet for their failure, but who look at what they did wrong, and then try something else.

Innovate. Take risks. Try something. You might succeed, and you might fail. If you fail, have some root beer and head out again - you never know when your kite will clear the tree, the Great Pumpkin will arrive, and the Red Baron will go down in flames. And, if you can't find happiness through innovative, entrepreneurial endeavour, try a warm puppy.

That'll be five cents, please.

Vale Charles M Schulz 1922-2000

Matthew JC. Powell has always kind of preferred noon. e-mail him on

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