Recently, while reading a blog, I came upon a sentence that made me stop and think. It read, “Failure is a stepping stone on the pathway to success. You pick up new pieces of information along the way that help you to avoid mistakes.” Like many entrepreneurs, I have had my fair share of failures. But, even though these failures rattled me, they’ve never killed my entrepreneurial spirit.
Over the years, I’ve made many wrong choices on whom to employ, which businesses to go after, when to hold on to a client, when to let go of a client, etc. Some of these decisions have ultimately led to one form of failure or another. But in all these failures, I’ve learnt something extraordinary—that the fear of failure is not something to be ashamed of, but instead we can embrace and leverage it to motivate us for success. This is one of the strategies to success that I hold dear.
Let me share some 10 strategies that I’ve borrowed from Ryan Holiday’s 29 Lessons From The Greatest Strategic Minds Who Ever Lived, Fought, Or Led that I like to revisit now and then.
1) Think Long Term — Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and CEO, explained the importance of long term thinking decades ago in his 1997 letter to shareholders. As he said, “We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term.” He explained that Amazon will always focus on the long term, “rather than short-term profitability considerations or short-term Wall Street reactions.” His maxim for business opportunities is: “Focus on the things that don’t change.” I find this statement chillingly accurate during this Coronavirus pandemic period.
2) Stuff Adds Up — A strategist should never allow distractions and none essentials to slow them down. Cutting a corner here and there adds up to one big cycle of disaster. You start out with a clear goal of what you plan to achieve—but you make this addition and that addition and let so-and-so add her pet projects too. Soon enough, the idea is not unrecognizable and off-track.
3) Make Haste Slowly — According to Wikipedia, the classical Greek adage or oxymoron festina lente means that activities should be performed with a proper balance of urgency and diligence. If tasks are rushed too quickly, then mistakes are made, and good long-term results are not achieved. If you tend to rush things—remember the lesson: festina lente.
4) Avoid the Competition — In the Blue Ocean Strategy, the authors explain the difference between a ‘blue ocean’ and a ‘red ocean.’ One is the virgin space without any competitors —the other is where you get eaten alive. Where would you rather go?
5) Actively Seek Criticism — As a strategist, you understand that there is no room for ego—your interest is only in the results. And your job is to plan how to achieve those. You actively submit your strategic plans to feedback and criticism—that’s how they get better.
6) Adopt Systems & Processes — According to some experts, one of George Washington’s favourite sayings was “System in all things is the soul of business.” With a system in place, you can better do the most essential job of a strategist: thinking long term. Then take the steps necessary to get you there. Part of that comes from systems, routines and rituals—structures that prevent you from sliding off the track.
7) Deal With Problems Early —Don’t put off dealing with your problems. They will only grow (many are contagious). The slave-turned-philosopher Publius Syrus had a maxim: “Rivers are easiest to cross at their source.”
8) Learn to Prioritize — A great lesson from Eisenhower is his decision matrix. It asks you to group your tasks into a 2×2 grid, deciding whether a task is either important or not and whether it is urgent. Most of us operate in the non-important quadrants, and we let ourselves be easily distracted. But as we know, the real value comes from shunning distractions and choosing hard work over the easily accomplishable bits that give us a sense of illusory accomplishment.
9) Learn to Manage & Delegate — No one can single-handedly claim success. Someone somewhere may have propelled you to greater heights. So, let go of ego and show some respect for your team and the talent they possess. There’s no shame in asking for assistance.
10) Beware of Specialization — If you become too focused in your scope of work, you might lose contact with the bigger picture. It is why Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, has put it this way: “I would define a specialist as a man who no longer sees the forest of truth for the trees of facts.”
Note to my future self.
Execution without strategy is aimless.