Who Would You Save – Your Mother or Your Girlfriend?

by: Elaine Johnson

I recently read an article that posed the question: “If you were trapped in a burning building, and absolutely had to pick, would you save your mother or your girlfriend?”

The question is part of China’s national judicial exam, and students must answer it ‘correctly’ before they can practice law.

This conundrum started me thinking about priorities and how they change as your family or business grows. Some decisions are easier than others. Unless you are an orthodontist, one would hope your first instinct is to seek an expert to fix your son’s crooked teeth. Other decisions are more flexible. Perhaps you can help your son study for his Grade 4 algebra test, but are your insights really helping by the time he reaches Grade 12 differential calculus? If the honest answer is “likely not”, then at some point you should have employed a tutor.

Many parallels can be drawn to running a business. When companies are small, employees pitch in to handle matters outside of their skill set, such as HR, finance and marketing. Demonstrating such initiative is vital to getting through the lean start-up years and should be recognized and rewarded. However as companies grow, specialists need to be hired so that staff can focus on the areas of their own specific expertise. Often these hiring decisions are postponed for longer than is good for the company. Key employees are lost due to poor HR practices, tax incentives are missed, and emerging markets are not targeted.

When running a small/mid-sized business, it must be recognized that some tasks (much like orthodontics) should not be attempted by well-intentioned volunteers. Managing a company’s intellectual property portfolio is one of these. There are so many pitfalls along the way, many of which cannot be rectified at a later date even by an expert. My advice would be to seek specialist IP guidance, even on a part time basis, at an early stage, particularly for tech companies.

And in answer to the “mother or girlfriend” question … it is deemed that under Chinese law, future lawyers and judges are obliged to save their mothers as it would be a “crime of non-action” to choose romance over family duty. While in general this is good news for mothers everywhere, it is fortunate that my son is not hoping to pass the bar in China!

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