I often dole out this bit of (unsolicited, unqualified) advice over coffee to those starting out their entrepreneurship journey:
Live by these 2 rules:
- Don’t trust yourself too much
- Back yourself completely
Of course, folks usually end up doubting my sanity or seriousness or both or very very bewildered. Either way, it makes for a great conversation following this.
So let me explain.
Don’t Trust Yourself Too Much
One very common trait I’ve seen amongst entrepreneurs is the ability to keep their mind and ears open. Much more than I saw folks capable of in all my years in corporate life.
“I may be wrong”. “I don’t know”. Those are very liberating thoughts. And the starting points of learning.
It’s probably the frequent reality check one’s plans face and the humility that comes with trying to solve a problem one is completely in the dark about that opens one’s mind to new possibilities – including of being completely wrong. There is a sense of belief, yes, in a few core ideas and values, but no hard conviction about assumptions one makes so set in stone that it cannot be re-examined.
Listening is a key element of this. The best sales people, they say, are great listeners. I’d say the best entrepreneurs, product managers too are. In fact, it’s a great skill for any role – even in personal life. And listening is not merely about hearing someone out before you step in to make your point, but to try and understand what they’re saying, why they’re saying it and if there’s more to it than they’re saying. It often provides unstated and unobvious clues and inputs that help you rethink your own understanding of, or reaction to behaviour, markets, needs, products, people around you.
The other important piece of this is the ability to keep your ego aside. At least for the duration when you consciously and honestly revisit your take on things. You might have made assumptions about how people will adopt a certain feature, but the reality was different. You might be getting a lot of feedback about a certain aspect of your life or your business. You can make sense of it only if you do not let you ego get in the way. The readiness to be proven wrong is important, as is a detachment from what you hold dear. Sure, there is a fine line to be walked – there are principles you should probably not give up on even in the face of data – but for the rest, try hard to be dispassionate when looking at where you stand.
The whole idea is to look forward and move towards something better, right? That often means change. And the toughest pivot is the one inside your head.
Back Yourself Completely
So I just told you to never trust what, and how much you know. But the truth is, you get nowhere by being indecisive, nervous or doing things non-committally.
Give up on the idea that you will always have enough knowledge or information to make THE best possible call at any point of time. There are a gazillion things that you will not know, or not know how to read/recognize or interpret right.
You still have to decide. And back yourself to the hilt on that. Half hearted execution is more dangerous than sub-optimal decisions. If it’s a market segment you’re trying to connect with, make sure they hear you loud and clear – wait-and-watch will neither prove nor disprove your assumption. Of course, be ready to course correct when you hear back from them!
It also helps to be seen as being moving confidently and surely. Even if you have doubts about the direction – that should be something you decide on when you have enough to make a decision, not hold back on because of fears.
Nope – it is not an easy one to live both of the above. We are a sum of our fears, our beliefs, our egos. But trying it consciously helps – and even being aware of this in your day to day actions will go a long way.