‘Just do it’ … more Bad Advice

By | October 20, 2019

[October 20, 2019]  Some time ago, when I was a very young teenager and working at a firework stand.  I had some trouble getting all the different kinds of pyrotechnics on the stand properly and asked Mr. Mike Browder, the owner, to give me some help.  His advice was simple and straightforward, “Doug” he said, “just do it.”

Usually, it’s not a good idea to provide such advice to teenagers (those with short attention spans and minds that frequently stray to girls, cars, and music).  As I was cutting open the boxes with a box cutter, I also cut through the tops of several Roman Candles.  Not that it was dangerous – it was – but the problem was that it cost my boss, Mr. Browder, some of his profits.  He was not a happy camper that day.

Mr. Browder had given me some great advice in the past.  Ten of the best things I learned as a teenager were from him.  These lessons are here (see link).  Like most folks, Mr. Browder was not always careful, and giving me advice to just do it was unwise and could have been dangerous.  Fortunately, incorrectly opening a few boxes was all that I managed to do.

Generally speaking, ‘just do it’ is bad advice.  The basic problem is that the person is saying it is making a litany of assumptions that may or may not be correct.  More often than not, these assumptions turn out to be incorrect.  My first Battalion Commander once advised me to ‘just do it’ when my unit was preparing for an annual IG inspection.  Fortunately, I ignored his advice and methodically and painstakingly put together a get-well plan that got us through the inspection.  If I’d followed his guidance, we would have failed.

A piece of advice that Mr. Browder had given me was, “Don’t pretend to know things you don’t.”  That is one reason I’d asked him about helping me in the first place.  Boys and men are notorious for refusing to admit they don’t know something.  My wife can attest to that sentiment.  Mr. Browder, like other guys, was not always careful, and his fireworks stand burnt to the ground a few days after I’d gone back to school.

Did Mr. Browder just do it?  Was he careful in disassembling his stand after selling most of the fireworks?  I’ll never know, but I did learn something that was not part of his 10-pieces of good advice.  Never tell people to ‘just do it.’

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “‘Just do it’ … more Bad Advice

  1. Bryan Lee

    My previous boss in retail gave us this advice just about every day. He was “okay” as a manager. He had plenty of experience so you would have thought he had his act together. But, in my opinion, he was intellectually lazy. I believe Gen. Satterfield once wrote an article on that subject too.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      Yep, just look at the seven deadly sins as identified in the Bible.

  2. Joe Omerrod

    Leaders who generally give this advice are not servicing their subordinates/teammates well. They are making incorrect assumptions (usually on a major scale) and are therefore setting themselves, their organization, and those that work there for failure. Let’s not forget that this is exactly the reason so many commercial companies have failed.

  3. Jerome Smith

    I’m not so sure this is really bad advice. Some of my friends below have alluded to this and they are correct. When we are confident that someone can do the job OR when someone should be competent, the giving this type of advice is a good thing and, yes, I will call it GOOD ADVICE. So the situation determines whether the advice is worth giving or not. 😊

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Good point, Jerome. Overall, however, giving this advice is a bad idea.

  4. Wilson Cox

    I found it humorous in a good kind of way that you identified male failures to admit mistakes and ask for directions. Just like my brothers growing up. I just had to chuckle a little because I know exactly what you mean. Telling them to ‘just do something’ or ‘anything’ was tantamount to getting things screwed up. My dad knew that the boys needed close mentorship and guidance.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      I was thinking the same thing. Boys are boys! And they are not the same as girls (heresy, I know). For the snowflakes, please stop reading at this point. The fact is, leaders need to be careful in what advice they give others and they should recognize that people have different intelligence levels, maturity, and abilities. Tailoring their advice to them is the best idea.

  5. Xerxes I

    Good article, thanks, Gen. Satterfield. I enjoyed it.

  6. Crazy Dude

    The problem is, as Harry noted below, that there are people who are inadequate (weak, stupid, untrustworthy – name the inadequacy) and those should not be give this advice. In essence, if you are given the advice, then I certainly hope that you are being trusted and your boss knows that you can ‘get er done.’ Thanks guys for reading my comment.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Good points here Crazy Dude. Your moniker is a bit weird, however.

      1. Crazy Dude

        Yeah, I like it. I get comments all the time on the different websites where I comment.

    2. Ed Berkmeister

      Crazy Dude, are you a crazy dude? He He. Just kidding. Keep up the commenting. The more we read from those who take the time to write here in this forum, the more we learn.

  7. Harry Donner

    Just a thought. “Just do it” can sometimes be GOOD advice in the right circumstance with the right people in place. Once I told this to one of my best teammates. I knew he could do the job, had the money and know-how. And, he got it done.

  8. Janna Faulkner

    I think we’ve all gotten this advice before and it didn’t end well.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      You can say that again, Janna. It seems like one of the more common approaches that managers employ when they don’t know what to do. This makes it appear (at least in their eyes) that they are looking like they know what they are doing. Well ….. they aren’t smart enough to know really what to do.

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