Dig deep and find a way out

  • Entrepreneurs should be at the edge of the abyss or they are not pushing hard enough
  • Should also have fluid intelligence, or the ability to reason quickly and to think abstractly

Dig deep and find a way outWITH business strategy consultant Don Tapscott and entrepreneur Adeo Ressi on the same panel at the recent Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2013) in Kuala Lumpur, you knew it was going to be a lively discussion.
 
During the session, Ressi recalled a conversation that took place many years ago, while sitting in a car with Elon Musk and Lyndon Rive.
 
Rive shared that he only had six months of cash in the bank and was getting nervous about whether he could continue keeping his venture going.
 
To which Musk laughed and responded, “I’ve got three months of cash in the bank, and I’m getting nervous!”
 
Ressi chimed in; noting he only had a week-and-a-half’s worth and was equally nervous.
 
“We were all in our own minds, throttling the edge. There was no certainty in the outcome though today you can say that each of our ventures have become relatively huge,” he told an amused GES audience.
 
Dig deep and find a way outIf you’re wondering who they are, Ressi is the founder of entrepreneur training and startup launch programme Founder Institute; Rive is the founder and CEO (chief executive officer) of clean energy service provider SolarCity Corporation; while Musk is best known as the chief executive officer of Tesla Motors and SpaceX.
 
Ressi (pic) told the tale to underscore his earlier point about how entrepreneurs should always be driving forward.
 
“As an entrepreneur, if you’re not on the precipice of death at all times, then you’ve screwed up,” he said.
 
In his view, entrepreneurs must always be pushing themselves to the limits of their capabilities.
 
“Entrepreneurship is staring into the abyss, walking over hot coals and chewing glass at the same time. And if it doesn’t feel that way, then you’re just not pushing it,” he added.
 
When asked what he thinks it takes to be an entrepreneur, Ressi noted that the type of person who would be one is fundamentally wired differently.
 
“We’re more open, not as closed-minded and see opportunities or problems a little earlier than other people with more formed worldviews. And we also have the ability to stick things out and see it to the end,” he said.
 
He also brought up the notion of fluid intelligence, where one has the ability to reason quickly and to think abstractly.
 
“It almost feels like attention deficit disorder but it’s like when your CTO walks in and says ‘I quit!’ then your CFO walks in and says ‘We’re out of money!’ and you throw your hands up in the air, take it all in and then start sorting it all out,” he added.
 
Tapscott, the world-renowned management consultant and author of Paradigm Shift: The New Promise of Information Technology, said that he feels today’s generation of entrepreneurs are better equipped and have higher fluid intelligence due to the very nature of the way they were brought up.
 
“Baby boomers grew up on television, which is a one-way passive medium, whereas those who grew up digital .. have got the television on as mere ambient noise with their attention on multiple devices, magazines and homework at the same time. They’re better able to switch between one task and another,” he said.
 
To better illustrate that notion of thinking outside the box and leveraging the potential of today’s borderless marketplace, Tapscott shared an anecdote about his neighbour back in Toronto.
 
This neighbour owned a gold mine but geologists he hired could not tell him where exactly the deposits were. An idle gold mine bleeds money, time was running out and he had very few options left.
 
So he had the idea that if geologists couldn’t tell him where the gold was, maybe someone else could and decided to publish all available geological data, which is typically kept under lock and key, online.
 
The Goldcorp Challenge offered a US$500-million prize for anyone who could pinpoint the location of the gold. A total of 77 submissions were received with the winning entry coming from a computer graphics company that generated a 3D model of the mines with the available data.
 
Dig deep and find a way outUsing that model, US$3.4 billion worth of gold was discovered and Tapscott’s neighbour’s company shot up from being worth US$90 million to US$10 billion in the space of a few weeks.
 
“This just goes to show you that there’s always a way and to not be afraid to reach out outside your borders. Just because you can’t solve the problem, it doesn’t mean someone else can’t,” said Tapscott (pic).
 
During the discussion, Ressi also took a moment to take issue with the misconception that the Lean Startup movement may have left entrepreneurs thinking it was alright to fail.
 
In his view, the world accepting failure is not the same as failure being acceptable to you as an entrepreneur.
 
“I don’t see any entrepreneur being happy with accepting failure. With governments and big corporations, failure may be okay but for entrepreneurs, it’s not okay to fail. It’s not an option,” he added.
 
So what’s the message of today’s column? How about I leave you with the reply Ressi had to one South African entrepreneur who stood up and asked if failure was not an option, how could one avoid it.
 
“If you get to that point where the stakes are high and failure is coming, you need to dig deep in yourself and find the way out. It’s like when you see a shark coming at you and there’s only one move you could make to save yourself.
 
“It does take a bit of luck but you need to think about what’s that one way out, and there is always a way out. If you have enough passion and commitment, and are serious about what you’re doing, there is a way,” he said.
 
This column originally appeared in the Metro Biz section of The Star and is reprinted here with its kind permission.
 
Related Stories:
 
Minimum viable crap and cardboard cutouts
 
The right frame of mind
 
BFM Breakaway: Lessons from seasoned entrepreneurs
 
Founder Institute’s Ressi on entrepreneurs and personality flaws
 
Start with your means; do the doable; then push it!
 
                                                                                                      
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