Very few ancient philosophies can be traced back to an entrepreneur, but one can: Stoicism. Around 304 BC, a merchant named Zeno was shipwrecked on a trading voyage. He lost nearly everything.
Making his way to Athens, he was introduced to philosophy by Crates of Thebes, a famous Cynic, which changed his life. Within a few years, Stoic philosophy would be born. As Zeno later joked, “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck.”
Since then, Stoicism has been a source of guidance, wisdom and practical advice for millions. It’s been used by everyone from Marcus Aurelius and Seneca (one of the richest men in Rome), to Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick the Great and Michel de Montaigne. More recently, Stoicism has been cited by investors like Tim Ferriss and executives like Jonathan Newhouse, the CEO of Condé Nast International. Even football coaches like Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks and baseball managers like Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers have recommended Stoicism to their players.
Below are five Stoic exercises and strategies, pulled from the new book The Daily Stoic, that will help you run your business, and find clarity, effectiveness and serenity.
Find The Right Scene
“Above all, keep a close watch on this — that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll be ruined. . . . You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends . . . if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.” — Epictetus, Discourses, 4.2.1; 4–5
Jim Rohn’s widely quoted line is: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” James Altucher advises young writers and entrepreneurs to find their “scene”— a group of peers who push them to be better. Your father might have given you a warning when he saw you spending time with some bad kids: “Remember, you become like your friends.” One of Goethe’s maxims captures it better: “Tell me with whom you consort and I will tell you who you are.”
Consciously consider whom you allow into your life – not like some snobby elitist but like someone who is trying to cultivate the best life possible. Ask yourself about the people you meet and spend time with:
- Are they making me better?
- Do they encourage me to push forward and hold me accountable?
- Or do they drag me down to their level?
- Now, with this in mind, ask the most important question: Should I spend more or less time with these folks?
The second part of Goethe’s quote tells us the stakes of this choice: “If I know how you spend your time,” he said, “then I know what might become of you.”
The Art of Negative Visualisation
“We say that nothing happens to a wise man against his expectation. . . nor do all things turn out for him as he wished but as he reckoned — and above all he reckoned that something could block his plans.” — Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind 13.2–3
We often learn the hard way that our world is ruled by external factors. We don’t always get what is rightfully ours, even if we’ve earned it. Not everything is as clean and straightforward as the games they play in business school. Psychologically, we must prepare ourselves for this to happen.
If it comes as a constant surprise each and every time something unexpected occurs, you’re not only going to be miserable whenever you attempt something big, you’re going to have a much harder time accepting it and moving on to attempts two, three, and four. The only guarantee, ever, is that things could go wrong. The only thing we can use to mitigate this is anticipation, because the only variable we control completely is ourselves.
The world might call you a pessimist. Who cares? It’s far better to seem like a downer than to be blindsided or caught off guard.
You know what’s better than building things up in your imagination? Building things up in real life. Of course, it’s a lot more fun to build things up in your imagination than it is to tear them down. But what purpose does that serve? It only sets you up for disappointment. Chimeras are like bandages – they hurt when torn away.
With anticipation, we have time to raise defenses, or even avoid them entirely. We’re ready to be driven off course because we’ve plotted a way back. We can resist going to pieces if things didn’t go as planned. With anticipation, we can endure.
We are prepared for failure and ready for success.
Never Do Anything Out of Habit
“So in the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit. Since all that I’ve said is the case, the person in training must seek to rise above, so as to stop seeking out pleasure and steering away from pain; to stop clinging to living and abhorring death; and in the case of property and money, to stop valuing receiving over giving.” – Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 6.25.5–11
A worker is asked: “Why did you do it this way?” The answer, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done things.” The answer frustrates every good boss and sets the mouth of every entrepreneur watering. The worker has stopped thinking and is mindlessly operating out of habit. The business is ripe for disruption by a competitor, and the worker will probably get fired by any thinking boss.
We should apply the same ruthlessness to our own habits. In fact, we are studying philosophy precisely to break ourselves of rote behaviour. Find what you do out of rote memory or routine. Ask yourself: Is this really the best way to do it? Know why you do what you do.
The Start-up of You
“But what does Socrates say? ‘Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.’” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.5.14
The rage these days is to start your own company – to be an entrepreneur. There is no question, building a business from scratch can be an immensely rewarding pursuit. It’s why people put their whole lives into doing it, working countless hours and taking countless risks.
But shouldn’t we be just as invested in building ourselves as we would be to any company?
Like a startup, we begin as just an idea: we’re incubated, put out into the world where we develop slowly, and then, over time, we accumulate partners, employees, customers, investors, and wealth. Is it really so strange to treat your own life as seriously as you might treat an idea for a business? Which one really is the matter of life and death?
Don’t read the news today
Today you will be tempted – pressured even – to stay abreast of current events. To watch the news, to read a few articles, to check the stream of real-time events on Twitter. Resist this impulse.
Remember what Thoreau said: “To a philosopher, all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over tea.” Remember what Epictetus said, “If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.”
Unless you’re a hedge-fund manager or a journalist, most of the breaking news out there is utterly irrelevant to your life (to say nothing of it being endlessly manipulative, exploitative and often incorrect). And considering all the things you could have been thinking about and doing instead, following it comes at a cost. A cost which is paid by you and your family and the world around you.
Don’t watch the news today. Focus on what’s in front of you. Exist solely in the present moment.
Your career is not a life sentence
“How disgraceful is the lawyer whose dying breath passes while at court, at an advanced age, pleading for unknown litigants and still seeking the approval of ignorant spectators.” – Seneca, On the Brevity of Life, 20.2
Every few years, a sad spectacle is played out in the news. An old millionaire, still lord of his business empire, is taken to court. Shareholders and family members go to court to argue that he is no longer mentally competent to make decisions – that the patriarch is not fit to run his own company and legal affairs.
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Because this powerful person refused to ever relinquish control or develop a succession plan, he is subjected to one of life’s worst humiliations: The public exposure of his most private vulnerabilities.
We must not get so wrapped up in our work that we think we’re immune from the reality of aging and life. Who wants to be the person who can never let go? Is there so little meaning in your life that your only pursuit is work until you’re eventually carted off in a coffin?
Take pride in your work. But it is not all there is.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Youthful Entrepreneurs Light The Way
If there’s one thing these go-getters have in common, it’s a determination to succeed. As we celebrate Youth Month, let’s learn from their example.
South Africa is already a very young country with 45.88 percent of the population under 24; by 2050, this proportion will have increased as the youth population is expected to double to 830 million. Already, 50 percent of the youth are unemployed, so it’s very clear that young people can’t sit around waiting for jobs to come their way – if they want a satisfying life, they will have to take charge of their own destinies.
This is just what these four inspirational young people have done
1. Imke de Villiers
All of them started young. Imke de Villiers, the youngest of the four, is only eleven, but her first book, The mouse hole, is available on Kindle and in online stores. It is evident that a big part of her success is the lead given by her parents.
“At the beginning of the year, we all had to write down three goals for the year, and the book was one of those,” Imke says.
“I have very supportive parents. My sister and I are challenged frequently to think outside of the box. We tell stories, think of money-making ideas and always use our creativity.”
2. Ingrid Moruane
Ingrid Moruane was also an early starter. “Since I was in high school, I’ve always seen myself as the boss. I’m a very driven person, and love working under pressure,” she says. Ingrid was fortunate to get some work experience as a project manager and optical assistant before following the advice of her then-boss to go out on her own, which she did in 2015. Now, aged 24, she will be moving out of her home office to premises in Joburg’s trendy Melrose Arch.
Ingrid’s business is Ing Management, and her concept is a unique one: she provides a portfolio of non-core services to government entities or corporates – event management, team-building events, catering, stationery and even office furniture. She uses trusted subcontractors to get the work done – what she provides is the vision and management. It is a turnkey service designed to remove a lot of detail off the to-do list of a corporate employee.
She sees funding as one of the biggest hurdles she has faced – and this is something one hears a lot about when talking to entrepreneurs. However, she pays tribute to the innovative approach taken by her bank, which stretches to introducing her to potential clients.
“More banks should do the same kind of thing,” she believes.
Believe in yourself
3. Sheldon Crabtree
Sheldon Crabtree has a similar drive to succeed on his own terms. Although his parents sent him and his siblings to good schools – he is an alumnus of Pretoria Boys’ High School, which also produced Elon Musk – there was little spare money. “If we wanted personal things, we had to work for the money,” he says. As early as Grade 5, he would save his pocket money to buy sweets to sell at school; he also refurbished items for resale.
No surprise, then, that he decided not to go the route of getting a degree and a “safe” job, but rather took responsibility for his own life. He likes the idea of benefitting from his efforts.
Now aged 24, Sheldon is the proud owner of a woodworking business and the Deep Roots Night Market, which is held on the first Friday of each month in Groenkloof, Pretoria. The market provides not only gourmet food but also entertainment in a beautiful setting. Around 3 000 people attend each event.
Like Ingrid, he found start-up capital a major challenge – his solution was to take a part-time job that gave him some seed money and spare time. The woodworking, which began as a hobby, also provided some initial funding.
4. Zwelakhe Khuzwayo
Zwelakhe Khuzwayo, 26, is a great example of somebody who saw entrepreneurship as a way to make lemonade out of the lemons that life gave him! He lost his job but, nothing daunted, drew on the inspiration of his friend, Thulane Maestro Mathebula, to set up his own business making promotional videos and producing music.
“I’m one of the few people doing this kind of thing in the north-eastern areas of Pretoria, where I live,” he says. “I hope to gain recognition for the work that I do and hopefully my company will grow and expand.”
What all these inspiring young people agree on is the need for entrepreneurs to start young, and to believe in themselves.
Zwelakhe says that if you put in the work and effort, you will never go wrong.
For Imke, it is all about daring to be who you authentically are – you will always find a way to achieve what you want. “There are always other ways, other options,” she says.
Ingrid has stayed true to her childhood ideal of being the boss.
Sheldon (like Imke) says that parents have a big part to play. Being supportive is part of it, but it is also important to get their children on the right path. “Let your kids understand the power of creating their own wealth. On top of the set chores, let your kids do extra chores for money,” he advises. “Ask the school if they will be able to sell anything during break time, and make sure they get to grips with the social, financial and planning aspects of business.”
As the old saying has it, the child is the father or mother of the man or woman. That is very true – but it also helps if there is an adult helping the process along! As adults, let’s make sure we fulfill this role in the lives of our youth.
MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970)
The Kindling Of The Entrepreneur Spirit
The principle of entrepreneurship is to observe challenges and find ways to improve them while simultaneously weighing up the relevant costs and benefits.
Many university students are funnelled into a conservative career such as a lawyer, engineer, actuary or accountant. This is often the popular choice and has the advantages of receiving stable income and benefit packages – it is a “safety net” career and offers the prestige of the title and security of the degree.
That being said, there are a lot of insights that you may miss if you use the narrow definition of what entrepreneurship means in the traditional sense – “starting your own business.” Entrepreneurship is more than that and, in my view, should be looked at using a three-principles based approach. The principle of entrepreneurship is to observe challenges and find ways to improve them while simultaneously weighing up the relevant costs and benefits.
Principle 1 – Adding Value Within Organisations
In my field, being an actuary with a data science background, you always need to find a better way of doing things. We need to use our resources, skills, and systems in a manner that would support our organisations to ensure that we add value to society.
In essence, we need to use statistical or modelling techniques responsibly to ensure that three key focal points are met, which is easily adapted to becoming a viable entrepreneur, with a trusted reputation:
- We do not mistreat or take advantage of consumers;
- The results of initiatives or strategies are measured appropriately; and
- There are no biases based on torturing data to get the results you want.
In addition to doing a good job, we needed to ensure that the work we do can be repeated, with ease and automated where relevant. This will ensure that our influence is long lasting and scalable, which is also critical to starting your own business or initiative. Most long-term solutions should also be flexible enough to add value to society, in whatever touch-points they are impacting.
Principle 2 – Benefitting Society
This is not about how much you give but rather what impact you have. We need to be honest with ourselves and determine appropriate measures to monitor success and what our ROI is aimed at becoming. This is often a challenge and is oversimplified or overlooked by many. For example, we may celebrate success metrics by reviewing how many scholars we fund or how much money was given to upcoming entrepreneurs.
This measure will have little benefit if all the scholars drop out or all entrepreneurial initiatives fail, we will essentially be celebrating an empty figure. The impact we have needs to be long-lasting and setting up society for success, with or without your continual influence.
Responsible and appropriate ways of measuring benefit will help add value to many initiatives. It’s a significant risk starting an initiative without any key performance indicators or measures of success, as you will have nothing to benchmark against and no measure to celebrate or punt as transparent and real success measures.
Principle 3 – Starting an Entrepreneurial Initiative
Some skills are necessary to start your initiative and working for a large organisation may help you build these skills or refine them. Key performance indicators are often used within larger organisations, and these companies may have proper structures in place to learn communication skills, the importance of planning, setting up budgets, pitching ideas or tracking results over time.
As such, some young adults prefer entering the world of work as a first step and then using what they learn to start something new in the years to come. Whichever approach you take, ensure you are learning as much as you can and are open to mentorship, guidance and constructive criticism, we can’t possibly know everything, and there is always more we can learn and improve on.
Bringing It All Together
Starting an entrepreneurial initiative will require a lot of bravery and resilience, an open mind, a good idea, relevant skills and support (financial and social).
What I admire, is that a foundation such as the Make A Difference Leadership Foundation has robust structures in place to support and encourage their scholars, should they wish to start an initiative in the future. And despite the prestige or the safety in obtaining a degree, the foundation inspires the scholars to follow their dreams, no matter how audacious they might be.
With the vision of the Make A Difference in mind, we believe that our scholars and fellows will be able to contribute and add value to organisations. Some may start their own initiatives and those who don’t will still use the principles of entrepreneurship in their daily lives. We all aim to continuously identify solutions that will add value to those around us.
Going It Alone In Business? 5 Reasons That’s A Really Bad Idea
Being a solopreneur sounds great, but it’s actually a poor choice for your business.
When we read about Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and all the other business giants – we immediately see a single champion. Much like old literature traditions where the hero triumphantly wins alone, our legends in business are often portrayed as the singular hero.
Steve Jobs reigning over Apple, Bill Gates towering over the giant that is Microsoft and Richard Branson stylised in his cape throughout the veins of Virgin – this kind of mythology and idealisation of the single hero in business has spurred a new wave of entrepreneurs who call themselves “solopreneurs.” We idealise the entrepreneur who does it alone and doesn’t need a team or support.
If you’ve been doing it alone or aspire to become a solopreneur, let me share with you five reasons to not be a solopreneur – and why the myth of any singular hero, whether in literature or business, is a misnomer and will only hold you back from having the most significant successes.
1. You’ll become a jack of all trades and a master of none
When you are a solopreneur, it’s practically impossible for you to master every skill needed to substantially grow.
Running a business takes a lot of capabilities: Mapping out content, creating it, sharing it, building a tribe, sending out emails, doing sales, attending events and growing the network, coaching, consulting and building out products is a small list of what a profitable business requires.
If you’re weak in some of these areas, it will hamper your business growth and fun.
Related: The Foundations Of Growth
Trying to do it all will soon see you doing low-level activities that pull you away you from making sales, doing projects for your high-end clients and doing the things that help keep the business growing.
2. You can’t scale or grow
Business strategist Jay Abraham says there are only three ways to grow a business. You either get more clients, increase the cost of each transaction or you service your clients with more products. Two of these methods will mean more work.
If you increase clients or increase the number of products you sell, you will most likely need to increase your output.
Since there are only so many hours in a day, you’ll either become your own bottleneck and slow business down – or decide to outsource some of the tasks to your team and ensure business runs smoothly.
3. You won’t have time to do everything you want to do
When you’re overworked and doing it alone, you have no one to relieve the pressure. You have no team to support you, and you have no partners who can take some work off your plate. That means when there are emergencies, you won’t be available.
If a client needs you, your kids need you and a new client wants to pay you a lot for a new project – you’ll have to decide which is most important.
While having a team may not save you from making hard decisions, ideally you aren’t so thinly spread out that you find yourself saying no to more clients, family emergencies and serving current clients to the best of your abilities.With a team, you’ll be able to free yourself more, and you can say yes to more opportunities.
4. You’re more vulnerable to mistakes
Imagine if didn’t have spell check your documents and emails. Or what if this magazine didn’t have editors and any article got through? I’m sure you’d agree, the quality would be lost, and it’d likely result in many lost customers.
In my life, I’m lucky to run a business with my wife and my team. Having a team helps me to not only “cut once and measure twice,” it also relieves some of the pressure to be perfect. It helps me to do my work, knowing my team will help me, and that inspires me. Doing it alone would be too stressful.
Having a team will allow you to call upon a support network, hand off jobs and have an extra set of eyeballs when you’re delivering a service.
If you’ve aspired to be like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington or any highly successful entrepreneur – take some time and study them and you’ll find they love building and being a part of a team. Soon you’ll find out all these legends have a team, an incredible support system, and they don’t do it alone.
5. You can’t ever sell your business
In most entrepreneurs’ minds, the idea of selling isn’t there until decades after starting the business. But, it’s something that if given the opportunity most of us would do.
Even if you wouldn’t sell your business, isn’t nice to know that if you wanted you could take your business and get paid one lump sum equaling years of work?
Or if you don’t want to sell your business, maybe you want to step out of business but collect payments and keep it in the family – well, if you’re a solopreneur it’s tough to ever to work yourself out of a job.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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