Champions aren’t born, they’re made – or so the saying goes. But each champion is made in a different way, and there is no blueprint for business success: Some entrepreneurs burst out of the gate and never look back; others stumble badly, learn from their mistakes and make the most out of their second chances.
Formative success breeds sustained success, contends Ian Robertson, a professor of psychology at Trinity College Dublin and founding director of the school’s Institute of Neuroscience.
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In his book The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure, Robertson explores the science behind how success impacts brain chemistry and makes humans and other creatures smarter, more self-possessed and more aggressive, setting the stage for even greater accomplishments to follow.
On the other hand, eventual success can be forged from the crucible of failure, argues Cass Phillipps, the founder and global producer behind FailCon.
Inaugurated in 2009 in San Francisco, FailCon is a series of conferences spotlighting entrepreneurial failures and how those negative experiences can shape wiser, more thoughtful business leaders, giving them the critical insights and assets necessary to build start-ups that thrive.
Entrepreneur pitted Robertson and Phillipps against each other to identify whether success or failure is the optimal launching pad for subsequent achievement.
Success leads to Success:
“If you fake the external trappings of power and success, you can trick your brain into believing you are successful, and you will trigger the dopamine and testosterone that make you feel more confident.
If you go out there, shoulders squared and arms swinging, saying, ‘I’m an entrepreneur — I’m going to make it,’ you’ll make it easier to have your next creative idea or see yourself through the next setback. The most successful people are great engineers of their own brains.”
Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson is an unlikely model for entrepreneurial success, but his comeback from prison exemplifies ‘the winner effect.’
When Tyson returned to the ring in 1995 after a three-year incarceration, larger-than-life promoter Don King set up a comeback bout against journeyman Peter McNeeley, a so-called ‘tomato can’ the rusty, out-of-shape Iron Mike could beat with the proverbial hand tied behind his back.
The fight lasted just 89 seconds before McNeeley’s corner conceded defeat. From there, Tyson demolished challengers Buster Mathis Jr and Frank Bruno, quickly regaining his heavyweight belt.
How the winner effect works
The winner’s corner
Professor and author Ian Robertson believes success creates more success by impacting brain chemistry.
“The winner effect is a phenomenon that occurs across species, whereby if someone wins a contest against a weaker opponent, they’re more likely to win a subsequent contest against a tougher opponent,” Robertson explains.
“Tyson wouldn’t have reclaimed the championship if he hadn’t fought the tomato cans. When you’re faced with a challenge against someone, your testosterone levels go up. The higher they go up, the more likely you are to win. If you win, your testosterone levels shoot up as well.
“The experience of winning increases the number of receiving stations for testosterone in the critical parts of the brain associated with aggression and motivation. The next time they’re in a contest, the surge of testosterone has a much bigger effect on them, because there are more receiving stations in the brain.”
Success breeds success across all walks of life, Robertson states, noting that entrepreneurs who hit pay dirt early on are likely to experience even greater professional triumphs as their careers unfold. “The main ingredient of success is having success,” Robertson states.
This is seen in sociologist Robert Merton’s theory of the Matthew effect, contending that ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.’
The other critical element of success is self-confidence, Robertson believes. “Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg knew he was very bright. He didn’t need other people’s approval. He got satisfaction from being smart,” he says.
“You can generate success experiences for yourself purely internally, and generate the biological benefits of that in your brain. Success and power can make you smarter, because testosterone increases dopamine, which affects the front part of the brain’s functioning. Success can make you smarter, and more able to think of new ideas.”
Failure Breeds Better Things
The merits of failure corner
Cass Phillipps is a proponent that failure and its associated negative experience can be turned into learning experiences that make you more successful.
Cass Phillipps’ start-up was tanking. Just six months after she and her partners launched social media aggregator Trogger, it was clear the company was irrevocably doomed.
“We made all the mistakes that every first-time entrepreneur tends to make,” she recalls. “But I was still telling everybody that my start-up was awesome.”
In the absence of a forum where she could openly discuss Trogger’s demise, Phillipps created FailCon in 2009. Each FailCon event in the US and abroad brings together technology entrepreneurs, software developers, product designers and investors to explore start-up setbacks and how the lessons learnt prime them for future success.
“Failure teaches self-confidence and tenacity. There are people who fail and take it very, very personally, and that makes it hard to recover from it. They are at risk of forever being fearful of taking new risks. That’s what FailCon is trying to change. We tell people, failure’s actually really great.’”
How the failure effect works
Start-up failure is essentially an MBA from the school of hard knocks, Phillipps believes. “People that use failure to become more successful are people that see their failure as a learning experience and recognise, ‘Hey, I got through that, and that was the worst of the worst. Why not start again?’
But failure isn’t just about building emotional resilience; it’s also about teaching practical lessons. Phillipps says that while many entrepreneurs attempt to build sexy, customer-facing start-ups during their first go-round, their rebound efforts are typically far less flashy and much more no-nonsense, targeting verticals like financial analysis or elderly care.
“They’re not worried about impressing their friends,” she notes. “They’re worried about building a good product.”
Failure is about gaining much-needed perspective. “The people who bounce back make sure they’re home for dinner every night with their wife or husband. They look after themselves. They make time each year to travel. For a lot of first-time founders, their company is everything to them, and it’s how they define their success. The people who bounce back are able to realise, ‘I can be a great entrepreneur. I can find balance.’”
The benefits of failure
So don’t think of it as failure, Phillipps says. Think of it as the foundation of something far bigger and better.
“Having something fail teaches you to question the decisions you’re making, be more open to alternative options and be more aware of what consequences you might have, so that down the road, you won’t have those consequences again.
“Failure — emotionally and philosophically — gives successful entrepreneurs a drive and sense of self-confidence that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Sh*t can really hit the fan, and they will be able to get through it, because they’ve done it before.”
The 5 Gut-Check Questions Confronting Entrepreneurs Every Day
The day you forget why you began is the day you’re done.
Entrepreneurs make an astounding number of decisions daily. They are faced with choosing which opportunities to move on and must solve problems big and small.
By setting up a framework of questions to ask yourself daily, you’ll give yourself some markers to help guide you through these difficult situations. Knowing where you stand on these questions will empower you to make good choices that ultimately lead you to your desired outcome. It will give you a deeper understanding of your motivations and your feelings about your business, and can help you clarify future plans.
Here are five powerful questions all entrepreneurs should ask themselves daily to ensure they are consistently moving toward their goals and making the best decisions for themselves and their business. Ask yourself these questions with an honest and open mind, and see where they take you.
1. Why are you doing this?
What makes this one little question so powerful is that it forces you to examine your desires and impulses, and helps you chart how those motivations change over time. It forces you to look at things from a different perspective. Asking yourself this question every day reaffirms your ambitions and the mindset behind why you are doing what you’re doing. If you don’t know why, you’re in trouble!
Asking this question opens the door to a plethora of other questions that will give you food for thought. What is the reason for launching your business? Why are you passionate about doing this? Are you the right person to run this business? These answers may change over time. At first it may seem difficult to truly nail down the “why” behind your motivations. Maybe there are competing interests that are driving you. But when you really think about it and drill down into this question, there’s probably a simple answer. Just be sure you’re being truthful with yourself.
Why you do something also gives rise to the question: what do you hope to achieve? You need to know what your end game looks like, and what success means to you. Is it about attaining a certain level of wealth? Is it about being the top in your market? Is it about earning respect? Are you looking to rule the world (or at least a niche market), or are you simply hoping to earn a living doing something you love?
Start your day by asking yourself this question and see where your answer takes you. By spending a few minutes pondering this, you’ll gain clarity that will help you steer your career in the direction you want it to go.
2. What is your company’s purpose?
See if you can answer this question in a single sentence. A good place to start is with your mission statement: what are the formal aims, goals and values of your company or organisation? This should be clear and concise – it should get to the heart of what your business is about.
Your company’s purpose is the foundation that all else is built on. It should have enough flexibility to grow and allow for change, but be specific enough to be meaningful and relevant. Ultimately, this question should help you understand what the heck you’re really doing here.
This question should be at the forefront of your mind when making important decisions. Ask yourself whether this new venture or idea would reinforce or logically contribute to your company’s overall purpose. Are you staying true to your calling?
That’s not to say that your purpose can’t change over time. However, if it does, the change should be purposeful and executed with care. Thinking about this will help you identify your long-term business goals and may lead to bigger questions, such as: What do you want your company to mean to your customers, what is your company’s place in world and what is its ideal market?
3. Where is your business at right now?
The goal with this question is to take both an analytical and emotional assessment of your business. This is a chance for you to take a hard look at where your company sits. Is it on the right track? What seems amiss? What is going right and how can that be reproduced throughout your business?
It’s also important to acknowledge your emotions and to be mindful of how you are feeling about your business. What is your gut instinct saying? Are you feeling anxious or excited about the business? Whether you are having negative emotions or positive ones, it’s important to recognise what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way.
This will give you a chance to better understand your mental state and how that may be influencing your decision making. It’s also about understanding what kind of vibe you are putting out. Are you feeling clear-minded and balanced? Or are you feeling off-kilter and out of sorts?
Being in tune with your emotions and having a clear view of what’s going on with your business will ensure you’re on an even keel. It will help you avoid overreacting or under-reacting to situations.
4. What lessons are you learning?
Every entrepreneur faces an uphill battle to achieve success. Every day you should be learning and growing, and the best way to do this is through a great deal of reflection on the lessons that present themselves each day.
Ask yourself whether you’re learning from your mistakes. Failure is a part of every entrepreneur’s journey. The question is, will your mistakes allow you to learn and grow? If not, you’re liable to fall into the same pitfalls and missteps. Conversely, are you learning when to jump at an opportunity and when to let it go? This is the ultimate lesson every entrepreneur is trying to learn, and it’s never an easy one.
The next time you’re weighing whether or not to take a risk, try asking yourself: “When I’m 80, will I feel sorry if I hadn’t gone for it?” Jeff Bezos does this as a way to crystallise whether he will regret not taking action on something. In the big picture, it’s often what we fail to do that we see as our biggest mistakes in life.
5. What’s next?
If you ask yourself one question every day, this should be it. As an entrepreneur, you always need to be anticipating what’s next. You need to anticipate what’s coming down the road and formulate a plan to take it on. This is the question that forces you to look up from that pile of work on your desk and think about the big picture and next steps for your business.
What strategies will you need as you keep pushing your business into the future? What trends or shifting interests are coming up that may affect your business? How will new technology impact the way you manage the company?
Disruption will happen in every market because change is inevitable. Businesses that survive see that wave coming and start making adjustments early on. So, in a way, change is predictable because it will always come. Innovation and ingenuity will always be the key to success – and those who seize opportunity will ride the crest of the next wave.
So when you ask yourself “What’s next?” make sure you have your blinders off and are looking at things with a curious and open mind. Make sure you’re staying open to new ideas and embracing creative solutions. Keeping looking for the “wow” factor.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
5 Inspiring Quotes From Madiba To Stir You Into Action On Mandela Day
In honour of Mandela Day, here are 5 of Nelson Mandela’s most inspiring quotes.
“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
25 Bad Words That Make Other People Feel Inferior
If the harshest thing you have to say about someone is partly true, say the other part.
Did you know that in every language, there are more negative words than positive ones? It seems we need lots of words to describe our negative feelings, but we’re content with a handful of positive ones.
For instance, researchers have found that most cultures have words for seven basic emotions: Joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame and guilt.
That’s one positive emotion, and six negative
It’s no wonder so many of us have a hard time keeping our negative comments in check. Over the past six months I’ve been working on the verbal language that I’ve been using that I don’t even realize hurts others and in some cases makes them feel inferior. I even noticed that I’ve used a couple on my personal and business website. This is a “no-no” that I needed to fix.
This post will list 25 negative words you should avoid…so that you stop hurting, belittling and intimidating those around you!
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