Success and Failure

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Humans like to look at others and say whether someone is successful or not. As much as we enjoy talking about successes and failures we do not have the ability to accurately define success and failure.

Honestly, it is hard to measure success and failure. What it means to be successful or not, is different for each and every person. Hence it is a crime to define your success or failure using scales that have been created by someone else.

Entrepreneur

By the above definition, a person selling tea out of a road-side stall, is as much an entrepreneur as any founder of a well funded startup. The only thing which differentiates them is their entrepreneurial goals. The goals of the tea stall owner is to be able to earn enough to take care of his family, while the goals of the startup founder is to scale and take over the market at large. The fact that their goals differ does not make anyone right or wrong.

If the tea stall owner is able to earn enough to take care of his family, he is successful because that was the goal that he had set out to achieve. Unfortunately, we tend to measure somebody’s success by the magnitude of money that they are able to earn.

Money is not always a great metric for success. A billionaire has a lavish house, which his servants enjoy, while he is constantly travelling; is that success? For some this might be a sign of success, for others it might not be. What is the point of having many houses but no home, they may ask? This sounds extremely philosophical but that is what success or failure is. Your success is defined by your philosophy towards life.

 

Moving on to the much hated F word – ‘Failure’.

We live in a world that defines falling as failure. Every person who has seen a child grow-up, will testify to the fact that; falling is essential to learning how to walk. If a child is not allowed to fall, the child would never learn to walk. It is therefore quite clear that falling is not failure. Failure is – refusing to get-up once you fall. The ‘getting-up’ builds character in a person because getting up is the difficult part. It requires self-belief, determination and courage.

It is the same with business, it is important to stumble; it makes you much more sturdy in the long run. But in a world where falling is considered failure, stumbling is not going to be considered a sign learning but one of failure.

Every runaway success; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college. The fact that they were unable to finish college and failed at it was the biggest asset that they had. They never had the burden of success. There was no great expectation. Would you expect big things from a failure? This allowed them to take risks that successful people would not have.

So come to think of it, failure is by far the most important ingredient for success. Perhaps this is what was best described in the old adage; ‘failure is the stepping stone to success’.

Don’t detest failure, embrace it.

The Value of Thinking

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Do you know why Achimedes came up with the ‘Archimedes Principle’ in his bathtub? Not because he experienced it. Its because that was the only place where he could THINK peacefully!

My obsession with thinking began when I started writing blogs regularly. In order to write something, there is great deal of thinking that needs to go into it. I never realised, that was the reason I did not write regularly.

In order to come up with good ideas and do good work, it is important to be able to think about the work that you are going to be doing. Taking all of the information that you have and letting it assimilate in your mind is extremely important.

Now picture this. An employee walks into the office and spends the whole day staring at the window. I do not suppose anybody in the office would be fine with that. This is what a person who is thinking, would seem to be doing.

There is absolutely no debating, if thinking is an important activity; but still it is not given its due credit and is considered unproductive use of time. This results in a work culture where people are constantly doing things, without thinking too much about why and how!

There are various suggestions on giving people more time outside of the work-place. There is the theory of doing a four-day work week as well as the Scandinavian approach of 6-hour work days. But very few have bought into these ideas. Corporates prefer their old ways and somehow paying the same amount of money to a person who is going to start working less is not an idea that many are interested in buying into.

This issue gets even more exaggerated in the case of startups. Because of the emphasis on execution, there is more and more time spent doing things and less and less time spent thinking about things. People tend to pride themselves in working 18 hour days. After putting the mind and body through 18 hours of anything, what kind of capacity to think might be left?

A gentleman once told me that in India we are 3, 4, 5 kind of people while in Japan they are the 5, 4, 3 kind. When I asked him what these numbers meant he told me;

3 = ACT

4 = PLAN

5 = THINK

He said; In India, when we start a project, we spend 70% of the time doing things, involved in the act. 20% of the time planning and only 10% of the time thinking. While in Japan before they even embark on any project, they spend 70% of the time thinking, 20% of the time planning and only 10% of the time executing.

Don’t get me wrong here. It is important to execute and it is only great executing that finally wins the day. But that execution should be based on fundamental thought process that is extremely strong. When the thought process of how and why is extremely clear, the execution moves forward faster and the things fall in place. Also, if things do not work out, it is easier to point out the fallacy of thought that contributed to a mis-step.

I keep telling startup founders, that I work with, to surround themselves with thinkers. Talk to a lot of people and discuss various ideas and get them thrashed out. It is purely by thinking deeply that you can make an idea better, clearer and well-defined. It is as important to think about the action, as it is to act.

If you have some of the best people working for you, it is absolutely imperative that you give them time to think. Smart people have the ability to critically dissect idea, improve upon them and deliver great insights. It is important for them to think so that they can come up with wonderful solutions. Find smart people who is passionate about your cause, give them a problem and let them think. They will come up with a plethora of solutions.

How often do you find a scenario where such a thing is allowed to happen? Instead we attempt to undertake meeting after meeting. Force a solution at the earliest and make many more mistakes. All that is needed is some time to be put aside to think. THINK and solutions will emerge.

So what have you been thinking about lately?