The Big and Bold Entrepreneur

I saw a video clip the other day of the Haohan Qiao Bridge that stretches 980 feet between two cliffs in China’s Shiniuizhai National Geological Park. It’s a suspension footbridge that is extremely unique in one particular sense . . . it’s made of glass. As you walk (or crawl) across, you see through the glass floor and look straight down 600 feet to the canyon below. We’re told that the glass is 25 times stronger than ordinary glass and if it breaks it is so dense that a person won’t fall through.

What’s interesting about this bridge is the fact that it’s bold, it’s big AND it’s safe (we’ll assume for the moment that what we’re being told about the bridge’s safety is correct). This bridge is the perfect metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish as entrepreneurs. There’s nothing wrong with small ball, but after playing this way for many years we sometimes yearn to take that big leap across the canyon. Doing so requires that we push beyond our comfort zone and summon a fearlessness that we may not have previously experienced.

What prevents us from taking big and bold action? Often, it’s a question of safety. We’ve invested much in the way of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today and we don’t want to risk our bank account, our 401(k), our home, our health, our reputation and yes, the possibility of failure. The risk of failure is likely the Number One reason we don’t take those big and bold steps. The rest of the risks can be successfully managed. We use them as “why not” reasons, but ultimately it all boils down to the chance that we might fail.

What does failure look like to you? Many of us are programmed to abhor failure. In school, getting an F was something to dread. Our parents were disappointed. We thought we looked stupid in the eyes of our classmates. There was real shame associated with this letter grade. Throughout our lives we have been conditioned to avoid failure at all costs. And so, we say things like, “I don’t want to go all-in on my business idea because I can’t afford to put my family at risk.” But at the root of it, we are afraid to get that paper back from the teacher with a red F in the upper right-hand corner.

I’ve said many times that failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. Failed experiments can sometimes be the only way we eventually get it right. I’ve started numerous business ventures that failed. In one case we raised investor money to fund a particular concept but could not get the traction we were looking for. Within a few months we realized that we were going to fail and so we gave everyone’s money back and shut down the venture. The goodwill from the early recognition of our failure and the act of returning the investment capital enabled us to build even stronger relationships with those investors who have invested in subsequent ventures. Long ago I realized that there is nothing to be ashamed about when we fail and maintain our integrity in doing so. I just haven’t figured out how to go big and bold without the risk of failure somewhere in the equation.

Here’s the bottom line. Step One – think big and then think bigger. Step Two – focus on how to mitigate the risks that could be associated with failing when launching that big (bigger) idea. Step Three – release the ego and realize that failure doesn’t diminish us as individuals. Step Four – create a solid implementation plan. Step Five – GO FOR IT!

Going big and bold is a process to be managed. But it also means that we must get out of our own way to deny the insecurities and perceptions of failure that prevent us from moving forward.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Expert Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, do you know it all? Most people will answer that they don’t. But guess what – we should! I’m speaking metaphorically of course. The point is that if we expect to win over the long haul, we had better be expert at what we do. When we are in command of the facts, we project confidence to others and feel it for ourselves. Malcom Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of continuous and deliberate practice to become an expert. That’s five years of plying our craft before we become truly proficient. So, does this mean that after five years of working in the same profession that we are officially an expert? Not so. How much of our day is truly consumed with “continuous and deliberate practice?” I submit that there are several things we can do that put us in such a lane . . . and many more daily tasks that don’t qualify at all.

Study! One of the first steps in our quest toward entrepreneurial fluency is that of study and research. We read every trade publication we can get our hands on, and every book that is even semi-related to our industry. We surf the internet for the latest trends and news that might be salient. In the earlier days of my career, there were many articles that were ripped out of magazines and circulated throughout our office. Today it’s much easier to share information with others and here’s the key. We NEVER stop studying and researching. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been in the business for five years or 45 years, we continue to be a sponge for knowledge.

Professional designations! Earning a professional certification or designation is another step toward becoming an expert. One of the first things I did after I entered my industry was begin taking the coursework necessary to attain a professional designation. I was only 25 when I received it, and it helped overcome my obvious youth in establishing credibility within the industry. I also made some lifelong acquaintances that have been very helpful in my career.

Experiment! Part of the process of continuous and deliberate practice is experimentation. Through experimentation we find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s comforting to know that the aircraft in which we fly were developed by experts. When we have surgery, we know that experts developed the procedures and techniques. These experts perfected the airplane and surgical techniques through literally millions of iterations. We entrepreneurs should be bold and unafraid to continually experiment to discover new innovations.

Collaborate! Hand-in-hand with experimentation is collaboration. We look for every opportunity to work with others who may have solved similar problems or are seeking answers in the same manner as are we. Being willing to collaborate is a sign of strength – not weakness. Rather than having to figure everything out on our own, we can shortcut the process of becoming an expert by joining forces. This is a leverage play and one that should not be overlooked.

Teach it! Teaching others is a terrific way to cement our own knowledge and to learn from others. During the teaching process many questions are asked by the “students” which can be stimulating for the teacher. Mentoring falls in this category as well. When we can explain things to others in a meaningful way and challenge them to think critically; and when it’s clear that they are realizing true value from what we are sharing, we are achieving expert status.

Participate in the discussion! This entails writing articles, blogs and books. It involves attending industry conferences and sitting on panels of – yes, you guessed it – experts! Who does the local or national press contact for information about an industry? If they are calling you, then you are probably regarded as an expert. Take full advantage of this opportunity and become the go-to person for as many newspapers, trade publications and other information sources as possible.

Know the answers! Finally, a real expert knows the answers and is right the vast majority of the time. We should have a deep understanding of the macro and micro elements of our industry and be able to explain how our product or service is capitalizing on these elements. Being able to construct logical fact-based arguments that persuade others is a priceless quality. And it unquestionably demonstrates expertise.

Becoming an expert in our field takes thousands of hours of study and research; is aided by earning professional designations or certifications; experimenting, collaborating and teaching; participating in the discussion and knowing the answers. And being an expert often provides a clear pathway to high levels of success.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 104 – Sliced Tomatoes.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.