By Majid Kazmi
The only thing more important than what is said is who said it. Or is it?

We know all too well that perception is greater than reality. That includes our perception of famous people whose opinions are perceived as gems of irrefutable wisdom regardless of whether or not they have any merit.

Well, it's not their fault. We tend to judge a lot, both positively and negatively. As a result, people who have gained a certain stature in life are considered more entitled to share their views based on their experience. The truth is, everyone is entitled to share their opinions based on their experience. The only difference is that if something is said by a billionaire, nobody runs it up the flagpole even if it makes no sense.
But every once in a while, a statement jumps out at you as so witless that you don’t really need to scrutinize it to figure out it is absolute dopey. It is so contrary to common wisdom, that you don’t even care who said it. Why such quotes still get millions of hits on the social media is a different story.

Here are the three silliest quotes that went viral for no reason:

1. The minute you have a back-up plan, you've admitted you’re not going to succeed (Elizabeth Holmes)
The obvious chart topper is this insanely stupid quote by Elizabeth Holmes. Even if investigative reporter John Carreyrou had not exposed Theranos as a possible multi-billion dollar fraud in his unforgiving Wall Street Journal story, the statement would still have made no sense.

Decades of research in strategic management led us to one conclusion — if you don’t have a plan B, you don’t have a plan. This is so because a back-up plan is not the same as a pack-up plan.

Every morally intelligent entrepreneur knows that success in business comes from being adaptable. That is the hallmark of tenacious startups who are not willing to give up on their vision, even if they have to completely rethink the way they achieve that vision.

It is like driving to work every morning. You don’t jump out of bed thinking, "no matter what, I am going to take the shortest road to work today." If that means bumping through the police cars blocking the freeway due to an unfortunate accident, it doesn’t sound like tenacity to me.

In his book “Plan B: How to Hatch a Second Plan That's Always Better Than Your First” David Kord Murray dissects the topic of back-up plans as an important discipline in strategic planning. He emphasizes the need to embrace intelligent flexibility. According to Murray, rather than the traditional top-down strategic planning, the key is to have a bottom-up thinking so that you can emphasize the importance of tactics, because that is the level where most strategies fail.

Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth. ~ Mike Tyson
Dr. Jeff Cornwall, the inaugural recipient of the Jack C. Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee points out how flexibility leads to luck and serendipity. No one cares (or even knows) that Google originally set out to build bulletin boards or that YouTube started as a dating site called Tune In Hook Up. In the words of Dr. Cornwall:

While our experiences are important, we have to be careful not to get stuck in the old, traditional ways of thinking. And we must never become a slave to our original ideas.

However, if your mom and dad sit at positions of power and privilege, and you have all the assurances that you’ll be successful no matter what the rules of the game are (because there aren't any for you), you don’t really need to be all that flexible.

Notwithstanding this uncomfortable reality of our times, the moment you think it is necessary to have a back-up plan, what you have actually admitted is that you are going to succeed no matter what.

2. You may lose your wife, you may lose your dog, your mother may hate you. None of those things matter. What matters is that you achieve success and become free (Kevin O'Leary)

Oh, really O'Leary?
So what really is success? Not to preach to the devil, but becoming rich is just one definition of success. And there's nothing wrong with that. However, when you say "what matters is that you achieve success" you are imposing your idea of success upon everyone else, commanding that it should necessarily matter to them because it matters to you. This is the inherent eccentricity of this arrogant statement that helps it achieve the coveted second spot on this short list of insanely stupid quotes. But there's more to it than that.

Lao Tzu wrote in the 6th century BC ancient Chinese classic text:
If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.

Still, one may argue that happiness, or spiritual and emotional fulfillment, is not one's objective in life and amassing material wealth is both a means and an end. However spurious, what this idea means in today's world is that you cannot always stay morally upright in an uncompromising pursuit of wealth, because morals and materialism so often become complete tangents. Therefore, a person with money as the sole measure of success, would inevitably have to sidestep when confronted with the trade-off between moral principles and the quintessential economic objective of profit maximization. In many cases if not in most, you simply can not pursue both and must decide what to lose in order to gain the other.
This includes losing things in life that human wisdom has considered for centuries to be essential for the pursuit of happiness. And yes, that includes the dog Kevin.

3. A problem is only a problem when viewed as a problem (Robin Sharma)
Ah, now that's a problem! I get what Robin intended to mean, but that's not what he said. He's making a sweeping generalization that all problems are opportunities in disguise. It comes across as a wise-sounding statement upon cursory view. Unfortunately, it is not; and there are no ifs and buts to it.

If we assume that Robin meant to say that each problem reflects an opportunity to solve the problem, that would make this statement sound dumber than it actually is. He simply means that all problems can actually be viewed as opportunities.

Many problem solving frameworks, such as Edward de Bono's lateral thinking paradigm, provide an alternate view of problem solving by re-framing the perceptions, concepts and boundaries for decision making. Still, it is considered a problem solving framework.

The problem about problems is that in order for them to get solved they need to be viewed as problems, studied as problems, defined as problems, recognized as problems and eventually solved because they are problems. However, during the course of problem solving one might stumble upon an opportunity outside of the immediate context of the problem, which might lead to esoteric investigation on how it could be beneficial to solve similar problems. I'm pretty sure Robin is not eluding to that concept here.

On the other hand, if all problems are viewed as opportunities, it would nurture the same diabolically opportunistic mindset that sees no problem with raising the price of an AIDS pill from $13.5 to over $700 overnight, only because there is an opportunity to do that. One's problem is other's opportunity, right?

A problem is a problem, whether it's yours or mine. It should be seen as one.

About the Author: Majid Kazmi is the Founder & CEO of Valu Ventures Inc. a social enterprise based in Toronto that helps immigrants become entrepreneurs.

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