A man once telephoned urging me to meet him to discuss a ‘mutually advantageous business opportunity’; four words that have a strange effect on me.  I instantly become uncharacteristically wary and suspicious. 

In my experience, the beguiling words ‘mutually advantageous’ usually collapse under scrutiny with whatever is on offer falling well short of the promised win-win. And I don’t feel much happier with the other two words, ‘business opportunity’. Opportunities (defined in my dictionary as ‘a favourable combination of circumstances’) are in the eye of the beholder and too often only become apparent with the benefit of hindsight. This, presumably, is why they are so often missed. 

Furthermore, the prefix ‘business’ brings me no comfort whatsoever – it usually means that the mutually advantageous opportunity is going to cost me money. For example, I have often been invited to speak at conferences and offered no fee with the promise that it will be mutually advantageous. When I have the audacity to query the advantages that the organisers believe will accrue to me (not to them – for some reason these always seem readily apparent to me!), I am assured that speaking at their conference is a privilege that (a) will undoubtedly enhance my reputation, (b) will cause the sales of my books on Amazon to rocket and, (c) will transform my life -the implication being that it will become better.  

Whenever I have decided to test the efficacy of these promises by allowing myself to be seduced into speaking for no fee, none of the supposed advantages have ever been forthcoming. So, I hope you can understand that my scepticism about the four words ‘mutually advantageous business opportunity’ is evidence based.

Despite this, when the man telephoned I was sufficiently intrigued to agree to an exploratory meeting.  This turned out to be like being set an obscure riddle to solve, for the man refused to reveal the nature of the opportunity until I had answered some ‘qualifying questions’. Since I didn’t know what I was being qualified for, or even whether I cared about being qualified, this was an irritating delay.  Eventually, the man came clean; I was being invited to invest in bottled water.

This happened about 40 years ago when water simply came out of taps.  It was inconceivable (my excuse and I’m sticking to it!) that bottled water would ever catch on and become the liquid gold that it is today.  Bottled water is a marketing triumph and has gone from a business prospect that few took seriously (i.e. not just me!) to an industry worth billions of pounds. I have since understood (far too late of course) that I should have seen bottled water, not as mere water, but as the ultimate convenient health and wellness product. 

Another example of it being the sizzle, not the sausage.

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