Choose a path that fuels your passions.
Avoid the craving for instant gratification.
Trust that what you’re doing has value.
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As entrepreneurs, we want to see things happen quickly. Yet, it’s important to remember that what seems small can end up being mighty.
At the risk of tossing out a cliche, consider a tiny apple tree seed. Its physical presence makes it seem relatively insignificant, but given time and the proper conditions, it can make a world of difference to countless people in need of nourishment. Or consider vitamins and supplements. They don’t produce immediate effects, but they can have a cumulative impact on someone’s health. The hard part is waiting for that impact to come.
Again, waiting isn’t a skill that founders tend to be known for. One recent study from Spain in the Journal of Business Research showed that the traits most connected with entrepreneurism fall in the categories of initiative and open-mindedness, not the ability to wait. Nevertheless, patience is essential because it has a leadership ripple effect that keeps teams positively driving forward even in times when progress isn’t immediate or linear.
I understand how hard it can be to exercise patience, though. My business was built on a product designed to provide users with incremental health improvements that aren’t visible instantaneously. When the product was first on the market, no one understood how it worked. They were interested and curious, but they couldn’t completely see how it would help people who incorporated it into their lives.
In other words, they could see the apple seed but had trouble seeing the tree. I had to wait for them to catch up — and it was very difficult, but years later, it has produced fruit.
As leaders, we have to be able to not just see the tree but believe that what we see happening down the road (e.g., the branching out, the blossoming, the harvesting) is real. That’s challenging, particularly when everyone around you is just pointing at a minuscule seed and saying, “That’s never going to turn into anything.” But you have to have faith that something small can turn into something bigger.
Below are some of my suggestions for helping you do that with confidence:
1. Choose a path that fuels your passions
As an entrepreneur, you’re going to do a lot of heavy lifting. You’ll be emotionally consumed by whatever it is that you’re invested in. If you don’t have an inherent passion for it, you’ll burn out — much like Thomas Edison’s light bulb.
Edison was an innovator who learned how the small stuff could add up. Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t fail in making a light bulb 10,000 times. Rather, he found endless ways the light bulb couldn’t work. Even his assistant succumbed to worries that they were on the wrong track. However, Edison is reputed to have explained the opposite was true: “… We have learned a lot. We now know that there are 2,000 elements which we cannot use to make a good light bulb.” It’s easy to imagine how hard it would have been for him to keep trying if he hadn’t been passionate about his invention.
You’ll have naysayers. You’ll have people telling you to throw a handful of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. You can’t let them deter you from the valid opportunities you see before you but are hidden from others. The only way to stay on track is to be driven by something that fuels your imagination and fire.
2. Avoid the instinctual craving for instant results
We live in a society of instant gratification. Accordingly, when we want something, we want the benefits of it right away. Sometimes, though, the long-term payoff is much better. For instance, when you take antibiotics, you can’t just stop them when you start improving. You have to finish your entire prescription, or else you could forfeit the benefits.
Here’s how this works from a leadership perspective: You need to start implementing small changes, pivots, paths, approaches, etc., in your organization. Maybe you do something once per month. It won’t work right away, but it will work eventually. For instance, I recently started updating my schedule to incorporate 50-minute meetings instead of hour-long ones. Though it was initially challenging to fit everything into that time slot, I’ve found that it now makes meetings more focused and productive. Plus, on days when I have nonstop meetings, I have 10-minute buffers in between to mentally decompress; then, I can be fully present during subsequent meetings.
3. Trust that what you’re doing has value
Trust. The. Process. This can be hard to hear as well as do. I remember being criticized by peers who thought I was making the wrong decisions. “Your revenues are ‘X,’ so your travel budgets need to be ‘Y,’ not ‘Z.'” What they didn’t see was that by traveling and making in-person connections, we were inching our way toward more business. This doesn’t mean we didn’t make corrections over time, but we trusted that we would see progress by doing what seemed reasonable — and it did work.
The Uber surge pricing decision falls into this category. The company’s leadership took a lot of heat for implementing dynamic prices for Uber rides. Lo and behold, the idea turned out to have merit after all. At this point, surge pricing is just part of the rideshare giant’s typical model — all because its leaders didn’t flinch from their path.
Will you get pushback? Of course. That’s all part of the journey. What you need is confidence in you and your team’s vision so you can execute thoughtfully and consistently. In doing so, you’ll be able to make small changes that will build on each other (similar to compounding interest).
The other day, I was driving and saw someone toss an empty can out a window. The person probably thought, “What’s one can?” As we know, one discarded can matters. One small solution does, too.
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