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While you are building your business, you are going to face ethical quandaries. Certainly, you have to follow the law and adhere to any contracts that you may have signed, but the question of what is legal and what is moral are often two different things. You can make moves in business that no one could ever sue you for, but the risk you run in wrecking a business or personal relationship in the process is too high a price to pay. My good friend Deane Barker eloquently referred to this as, “The Supermarket Rule.” If you are ever going to do something in business that will sour your relationship in such a way that it causes you to turn and walk when you see that person in the supermarket, do not do it. While succeeding in business is important, you should not build your business at the expense of a series of broken relationships. 

Whether your choice is between a friend who has developed a solid business idea you are tempted to copy, legally cutting a business associate out of a deal to get more money for yourself, or deciding to set out on your own and take a team of your former employer’s clients with you, providing you have not signed a non-compete agreement, you run the risk of ruining relationships. Keep in mind that these are the same relationships you sought in the building of your business network and need to maintain to continue growing. Those types of self-serving actions at the expense of others tend to spread the fastest in your business network, your industry, your potential partners, employees and clients. It does more than just damage your reputation. It becomes your reputation. 

A Short Story 

There was a very good public example of breaking, “The Supermarket Rule” a few years back. Leo Laporte had built a network of technology podcasts called the Twit Network, found at www.twit.tv. He frequently had an entrepreneur named Jason Calacanis on his network’s lead show: This Week in Tech. Calacanis had been the founder of various companies including: Weblogs Inc. of Engadget, Mahalo, now called Inside.com, and the Launch Conference. Calacanis had created a show called, This Week in Startup, with Laporte’s encouragement and blessing independent of the Twit Network. Calacanis then decided to create his own network of podcasts called ThisWeekIn. Many of the shows on the ThisWeekIn network were very similar to those on the Twit Network. After the launch of ThisWeekIn, the relationship between Laporte and Calacanis quickly fell apart. Laporte told Calacanis that he would no longer be invited on the Twit Network. For the years that followed, Laporte and Calacanis would periodically make remarks to defend their side of the story on their respective networks. In 2013, the ThisWeekIn Network disbanded, but as best as anyone can tell, the relationship remains broken. Though Calacanis had no contract with the Twit Network and was legally free to create his own version of the Twit Network, he seriously harmed his reputation and relationship with Laporte in the process. 

Don’t Break the Supermarket Rule 

The best way to answer your questions about your next business move, or decision is to talk to the person or people involved. This may prevent serious issues for you, as well as your business and personal relationships. If you discover that you want to avoid the conversation with that person or group of people, take it as a good sign that you should not move forward. If you do talk and they give you their blessing, you are in the clear to continue with your idea, exactly as both or all of you discussed. Life is too short to leave a trail of broken relationships on the path of your business. Take the high-ground. 

Action Steps: 

  • Don’t break “The Supermarket Rule”