Posted on Jul 19, 2012 by | 0 Comments
We all know that starting up a business is tough and time-consuming. But what else have you done recently? How about combining it with hurling yourself out of planes, winning a man-hauling race to the Magnetic North Pole, representing Britain in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race and summiting Everest from the (more) dangerous North Side?
I listened to a fascinating talk last night given byJustin Packshaw, a man whose list of past achievements includes all of the above (and more) in the years following his MBA from the University back in the early 1990’s. In a popular opening event of the Alumni Weekend 2012, Justin used the opportunity to present a surprising number of parallels learned from personal experience of both extreme adventure and the entrepreneurial journey.
Using the title of “What is Success?”, he highlighted examples from his successful De Roemer Everest expedition in 2011 to argue that success, regardless of the chosen endeavour, requires the same building blocks. Broadly, speaking these fall into the following five categories.
Build trust amongst your team by focusing on a common shared goal but always put your best people forward in certain situations to improve the overall chances of success. Honesty and integrity are critical amongst members. Don’t hide weakness in a team - identify it but, before doing so, you must build the framework to ensure that the rest of the team will provide necessary support where required.
Whether you’re hanging off the side of a cliff or desperately seeking that first difficult customer from the incubator, you can guarantee that life will deal you some rough cards from time to time. There are simply too many variables that are beyond your control. The answer? Plan thoroughly for all eventualities in advance and work through a range of all potential scenarios. Adopt the Army’s tested strategy of carrying out an ‘appreciation’ in each case and you will invariably be better placed to react correctly under pressure than someone who faces the same challenge for the first time. Build clear strategies but be flexible enough to change them as required. Carrying out the process of business planning is essential to identify risks and responses. With no expectation of sticking rigidly to the plan, your business will be able to enjoy the benefits of being more informed than the competition.
In an appeal familiar to anyone who has left the security of employment to start their own business, Justin urged everyone to actively chase his or her fears. It’s a short life - go out and fill it. As human beings, we only scratch the surface in our daily activities of what we’re capable of. Confidence is an unusual beast – if you actively confront and defeat your fears in one area, watch the benefits translate positively to other areas of your life as you walk that little bit taller. In your first sky-dive, it takes only two and a half minutes for your mental state to switch from extreme terror to a feeling of utter elation. Dream big.
Can the most junior member of your team speak openly with the most senior? Can the lines of communication be improved? It may be less of a problem in smaller startups but any business that loses sight of this fundamental as it grows does so at its peril.
An obvious point perhaps but often low down the expanding list of priorities whilst working round the clock in order to build a business. Ultimately, the human body is little more than a machine and the better care that is taken of it, the better you will be able to respond to the ups-and-downs of life as an entrepreneur.
Admittedly, the daily challenges of startup life can be distinguished in many ways from pursuing a goal where one in ten will die during the attempt. But perhaps you’ve dreamed of starting your own business from an early age and you’re now considering taking the plunge. Like many, Justin had grown up with the dream of one day conquering Everest. The only difference for a self-confessed ‘regular Joe’ is that he actually achieved it by focusing sharply on a combination of technology, physiology and pyschology. The similarities of success when you are firmly focused on the goal ahead – in the form of a summit or creating a successful business venture - remain remarkably similar.
It’s a convincing argument that the attitude towards business failure in the UK remains too conservative. In every failure lies the opportunity to learn lessons that, whilst painful, are survivable and, above all, valuable. And when it’s not your life on your line, should you really be that concerned about pursuing an opportunity?
Certainly an inspirational talk so whilst I'm off now to polish up the old hiking boots, what are your thoughts? Do you believe that it’s easier for some than others to achieve significant levels of success? Or are the established institutions and educational systems simply too conservative when it comes to enabling entrepreneurial activity in this country? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.