…business advice in Spanish sayings

Have you ever been at work, perhaps listening to a presentation or talking with a coworker when an old proverb suddenly comes to mind, somehow capturing the essence of what is being said? Now, depending on your fluency level in Spanish (or any other language!), chances are that the saying is in such language, connecting you to family, places, coursework you took, or in some way bridging you to a culture that is important to you from an intellectual, emotional, or other standpoint. I find those moments fascinating…!

Remember for example your classes in Strategy, Marketing or Industrial Economics; “First mover advantage” is often mentioned as a strong correlate of success for new product development. You probably have heard “Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda” (“The early bird gets the worm”). This saying’s relevance for business can hardly be questioned –though I remember arguments to the contrary in some new industries such as Internet book retailers or social networking sites; for example, neither Amazon nor facebook were the first companies to be launched, but currently they seem to be the most successful.

How about “El hábito no hace al monje” (“the garb doesn’t make the monk”)? I remember Human Resources, Marketing and Cognitive Psychology readings that talk about the power –and danger!—of first impressions. This and many other sayings make me think about the wisdom of our great-grandparents. Clearly, before we had schools or formal training programs, dichos (sayings) have provided an effective vehicle to transmit valuable information within a society and between generations.

Still, the value of modern education and of scientific research also becomes apparent when we consider that some old proverbs are reflective of beliefs that do not pass the test of science. Consider “Árbol que crece torcido, jamás su tronco endereza” (“crooked trees will never straighten their trunk”); an English parallel for this saying is “old dogs don’t learn new tricks.” Well, Education research does show that age is no obstacle for learning when we are motivated and have no strong impairment to stop us!

Or, on the other hand, “Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo” (“Because of his age, the Devil knows more than because of being the Devil”) suggests that experience –or old age, at least—trumps cognitive endowments, motivation or other features. There is ample evidence showing that, within certain contexts –track and field sports come to mind—experience or age is important, but not as crucial as an appropriate set of muscles, training, and perhaps some luck. In fact, at the organizational level of analysis, company age often dampens creativity and may work against the firms’ ability to innovate.

What do you think? Have you come across any old sayings –in Spanish or another language—that offer sound (or less than!) advice for managers or businesspersons? My closest business partner–and wife—and I have been compiling a collection of sayings and how they stack up on the face of the available scientific evidence in Management for a future publication. We might also present a paper on this topic in Minneapolis, at this year’s NSHMBA Academic meeting that runs in parallel with the Annual Conference and Job Expo. Would you be interested in participating too?

If you send me a saying (or more!) and how you have applied it at work via email to drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com or facebook (I’m also test-driving twitter -@drolivas is my username), we will acknowledge your help. We are particularly interested in sayings from all Spanish speaking regions, and we are more familiar with Northern and Central Mexico. Look forward to hearing from you!

¡Hasta la próxima!