Every entrepreneur knows what it’s like to face adversity. It comes with the territory, and includes cash-flow challenges, fickle customers, belligerent investors and unpredictable economic downturns. The best entrepreneurs tackle these one at a time without losing their stride or their passion, and many secretly get their highest satisfaction from overcoming an impossible problem.
For example, you probably didn’t know that the world’s richest entrepreneur, Bill Gates, found that his first venture, Traf-O-Data, failed to make money because he couldn’t solve the technical problems quickly enough and selling to municipalities was a nightmare. Instead of making excuses, he credited his later success with Microsoft to the lessons he learned with Traf-O-Data.
Also, most people don’t realize that Richard Branson has dyslexia, which made him a poor student, so he faced adversity well before his first startup effort. Yet he was able to use his dynamic and powerful personality to drive him to success. Today, Branson is known for over 400 companies, many very technologically advanced and he is the fourth richest person in the United Kingdom.
I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that adversity energizes some people, almost to the super-human level, while others are driven to despair. I suspect it starts with a strong survivor instinct, rather than reverting to a victim mentality. Beyond this, I have extracted from my own work with entrepreneurs a set of principles that I recommend for every founder in the face of adversity:
- Maintain a positive attitude, learning from failure. Thomas Edison called every failure an experiment (now it would be a pivot). He made no excuses for 10,000 light filament failures. Challenged by his contemporaries, Edison soberly responded: “I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He then succeeded.
- Build relationships with others, and communicate. An isolated position is hard to defend in the face of adversity. Successful entrepreneurs are not afraid to reach out and ask for help from peers and advisors. They communicate their goals, fears, and challenges without excuses and actively listen to feedback and guidance.
- Surround yourself with smarter people. The best entrepreneurs get past the need to control every aspect of their business, and make every decision. They actively solicit people who are strong, have more expertise in a specific area and trust them to make decisions there. Adversity will melt away.
- Prioritize your health and activities balance. In the natural world of survival, unhealthy and unbalanced people most easily succumb to adversity. Smart entrepreneurs always find time for rest, outside physical activities or even meditation. Working 20 hours a day, seven days a week does not solve all problems.
- Accept adversity as a norm rather than an exception. Some adversity is inevitable in every business, so it must be treated as any other unknown, rather than a crisis or the end of the world. Many entrepreneurs thrive in adversity and get satisfaction from the solving challenges, compared to the relative boredom of business-as-usual.
- Practice resilience by refocusing on your strengths. Researchers have concluded that human beings are born with an innate self-righteous ability or resilience, which can be either helped or hindered. Obsessing about problems and weaknesses hinders resilience, while identifying and building on individual strengths increases resilience and leads to success.
One of the biggest myths that aspiring entrepreneurs tend to believe is that they can be successful doing only fun things. In reality, experienced leaders and entrepreneurs will tell you that it’s how you anticipate and handle the inevitable tough challenges that determines long-term happiness. If you try to avoid any risk and competition, you won’t be happy with the outcome.
I don’t recommend the entrepreneur lifestyle to those who can’t deal with risk and adversity. If you are ready to give it a shot, or are already committed, I do recommend the principles outlined here to solidify your natural strengths. We can all benefit from the experiences of others. The best entrepreneurs don’t succeed by dodging challenges, but because of how they handle them.
Image credit: CC by Michelle Grewe