Headwinds

An airplane wing gains lift by taking off into the wind. This then causes the airplane to defy gravity and fly . . . an entrepreneurial metaphor if ever there was one. Interestingly, in my pilot days I once experimented with a downwind takeoff (on a very long runway) and could barely get off the ground. I quickly put the plane back on the runway and ended the experiment!

To build a muscle we exercise it regularly adding more weight and repetitions. Members of the military become elite Seals, Green Berets, Delta Force and Rangers by undergoing rigorous training involving obstacles that severely test the physical and psychological strength of a human being. In Kenya, long distance runners often wear no shoes as they traverse inhospitable terrain, toughening the soles of their feet in the process. I think you can probably see the lessons here.

Adversity can be an entrepreneur’s best friend if we allow it to be. If success comes without challenge it’s easy to become complacent. We’re also robbed of growth opportunities that result from what we learn as we work through various hardships on the road to achievement. No one says we have to like adversity. But avoiding it and fighting it does not work. I’ve found that the most constructive approach is to actually embrace it. For me this means relaxing and easing into adversity. It means establishing a positive mindset and expecting that much good will comes from the experience. We’ve all heard the term “silver linings” and used it many times. Often we look back on what has transpired and almost as a consolation prize we identify the silver linings. Looking for them in advance can give us the lift that we need to fly through the clouds.

In addition to the tangible benefits that come from overcoming adversity in specific situations, there are numerous more global wins that can occur. Think about the last time you had a tough puzzle to solve. Perhaps one of the outcomes was that of heightened creativity and innovation. When faced with the prospects of failure our creative instincts kick in and the results can be amazing. We also find that collaboration and teamwork increases reinforcing the notion that two heads are better than one. While I thrive on making sense of complexity and solving tough problems, I find that doing it with others is more productive and builds a stronger organization.

Suppose a professional basketball team plays a game against the best high school team in the country. There’s no doubt about which team would win. Now, imagine that the same NBA team plays against the reigning world champion NBA team and beats them. Which win do you suppose offers a greater sense of accomplishment? We need to feel like we are doing something really worthwhile which can be difficult when we prevail without any struggle whatsoever.

Adversity helps us to identify weaknesses within our company as well as with our strategy. When we aren’t tested and succeed anyway we don’t really know what could happen if our feet were held to the fire. Challenges and obstacles also allow us to develop resilience and perseverance – both individually and organizationally. I truly hated those first few months of my career when I was an apartment manager. I was kicked in the teeth, the rear and every other part of my body – I was totally miserable. But something finally clicked and I figured it out. Quitting wasn’t an option for many reasons – thank goodness! Now I look back and understand how valuable the tough times were in teaching me how to get off the ground and back on the horse.

When we embrace adversity we can make it work for us like an airplane uses the wind to take off. Then it can become a powerful tool in the entrepreneur’s tool box.

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.

1911_Wright_Glider

Mistake-Prone

I have a philosophy that mistakes are simply unfinished experiments in the laboratory of life. That doesn’t mean we want to leave unfinished the same experiment over and over. But being too tentative and too cautious to avoid making a mistake may itself be a mistake! The obvious conclusion is that we want to learn from our mistakes and turn them into productive experiences.

To turn our mistakes into productive experiences we need to analyze them in a process-oriented manner. Being a go-go entrepreneur, it’s not easy for me to slow down long enough to reflect on what went wrong. Generally I just want to get back in the game and do it right the next time. This worked somewhat well in the past, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that being more intentional about analyzing mistakes increases the odds of not making the same mistake again. It also has caused me to look for the “silver lining” – that nugget of information that might enable me to turn the mistake into something unintentionally positive.

Step One in my mistake analysis process involves the simple act of identifying what went wrong and writing it down. Yes, I know this takes time, but it forces us to take a hard look at what happened. Did I follow an established process or did I deviate from it – maybe even wing it? Did I fail to build-in a sufficient margin of safety at the front end? Did I somehow ignore warning signals that were flashing at me? Was I driven by emotion or was my initiative grounded in facts? I’ve found that most of my mistakes came from deviating from an established process. Because of my go-go nature I want results to happen very quickly. By analyzing my mistakes I’ve recognized a tendency pattern to cut corners.

Step Two requires that we consciously determine what we need to do differently and commit to do it. Knowing that I have the propensity to cut corners, I have become committed to following established processes. Before I move forward with anything I’m doing, I stop myself and ask the simple question, “What is the process that needs to be followed?” I make certain that I know exactly what the process should be and then I affirm, “I know the process and I will follow it.” Sometimes I may even make this pledge to a close colleague for accountability sake.

The final step in mistake analysis is that of looking for the “silver lining.” History is littered with mistakes that resulted in brilliance. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin due to a mistake he made in his lab. Another famous mistake at the 3M laboratories turned into Post-it Notes. Plastic was invented as the result of a mistake – some say that Charles Goodyear left a mixture of rubber and sulfur on the stove too long and found that he had created a new material. Wilson Greatbatch was building a heart rhythm recording device in 1956; used a wrong part, and realized that the device would maintain a heart rhythm – thus the pacemaker was born. If we don’t look for the silver linings in our mistakes we may never find that little (or big) something that manifests into a positive development. Finding the silver lining requires a creative mindset – perhaps this is an exercise that can be done with others. Take the mistake and purposefully look through the “rubble” to see if there’s anything of value that might be useful.

Mistakes don’t have to be the end of the world for us if we take the time to find out what happened; how we’re going to act differently in the future and committing to such different action, and finding the silver linings that may be hiding in plain sight.

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.

mistakes