Let P.T. Barnum Be Your Guide To Business Ethics And Industry

Via Kotte.org is P.T. Barnum’s short book, Art of Money Getting. If you are like me in thinking Barnum said “there’s a sucker born every minute,” (he didn’t), you may be surprised at how forthright and industrious his advice is.

I was interested to note just how little has changed since 1880. Barnum’s first piece of advice is along the lines of doing what you love.

Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed. I am glad to believe that the majority of persons do find their right vocation. Yet we see many who have mistaken their calling, from the blacksmith up (or down) to the clergyman.

His second bit of advice is location, location, location.

Number 6 includes the value of failing early and often.

“…and he will find he will make mistakes nearly every day. And these very mistakes are helps to him in the way of experiences if he but heeds them. He will be like the Yankee tin-peddler, who, having been cheated as to quality in the purchase of his merchandise, said: “All right, there’s a little information to be gained every day; I will never be cheated in that way again.” Thus a man buys his experience, and it is the best kind if not purchased at too dear a rate.

Number 7, Use the Best Tools he applies to investing resources to retain the best employees, but Drew McManus also just talked about the same thing in a recent interview. Drew related it to not trying to skimp and get by on scaled down student or trial version of software

If you think it is difficult get your marketing efforts to connect with people amid all the things vying for their attention, Barnum says in 1880 a person has to be exposed to your ads or mention of your product/service seven times before they buy.

He has 20 rules in all that include many sound bits of advice like treating your customers well; being charitable; not gossiping; not falling prey to get rich quick schemes; preserving your integrity; working hard; being focused; having sound processes but don’t become enslaved to them; and being both hopeful and practical.

Barnum was definitely a showman and hard charging promoter that was eager to perpetrate hoaxes in order to make money. The more I read about him, the less smarmy he appears to be. He did a lot of work in public health and safety, for example.

There seems to be a tendency to blame him for random unattributed cons. The 2001 episode of The West Wing that claims he was able to sell white salmon by claiming it will never go pink in the can may actually be the first time his name is connected with an apparently widely cited, likely apocryphal, 100 year old tale.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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