I wrote this article as part of LinkedIN’s content series on the topic of success in the UK. #Thisissuccess.
When I was careering down the Matterhorn, it’s safe to say that “success” was definitely not on my mind. In fact nothing at all was on my mind except basic survival instincts – principally how do I stop myself before I go over the edge?
I was in my early twenties, young and – as you’ve no doubt guessed – a bit reckless. Against all the odds I had got to Cambridge University – the first person from my school to get to Oxbridge in over 10 years. I had just climbed the Matterhorn without ropes. I guess you could say I was successful.
Except, as my accident on the way down showed, to me there’s no point in achieving things if you aren’t there to enjoy it! (I slid out of control for about 15 metres, then managed to stop myself – I’m not sure how- about 10 metres away from a massive drop!)
I think this same lesson applies to business in a number of ways.
Think of the bigger picture
First, when defining your goals, think of the bigger picture. Is success for you reaching a career goal – be it Director Level, a certain salary – or is it staying there? Is the goal just to climb the mountain, or to come down safely as well ?
In my own business experience there comes a point when you need to make a transition from a talented and driven individual to a key player in a team. And this requires that you delegate and trust other people.
Personally I find this hard but the best times I’ve had in business so far have always been when I’ve been part of team that has created something amazing. For instance, last weekend we launched a The Great British Bike Off, a new charity event in Oxford. The core team were all volunteers but we worked together well to overcome the many challenges and obstacles to putting on a major ground-breaking new event in Oxford City Centre. And we had a ball doing it too.
Failing is an essential part of succeeding
A mantra of the Growth Hacking world is “Fail Fast, Then Fail Better”. In my own business career I have taken lots of risks. I’ve always liked to get involved in “skunkworks” projects which are under the radar. An example is when I worked with a programmer in IBM to create a user customisable on-demand training catalogue for delivery in print or online format. This was years before the print on demand revolution.
Sometimes these activities succeed. Sometimes they don’t. They key thing for me is to not to be afraid to try. And of course to ensure that failure is not too expensive or painful.
The Growth Hacking world has the concept of a Minimal Viable Product. This is a great way to mitigate risk of a new technological innovation. If it looks like it will be a success then you can always invest more. If not, then you can deinvest.
At the end of the day, what success stories would you share?
When mountaineers share their tall stories in the bar over a few drinks, the best stories are not when everything goes well. On the contrary, the best stories are when you have succeeded against the odds. When the weather has turned against you, when you’ve been avalanched or when something has gone horribly wrong.
Achieving success in Business is also rarely smooth. Brad Stone’s excellent book, The Upstarts, outlines in fascinating detail the trials and tribulations that Uber and AirBNB had to go through to achieve their success: from early prototypes of the Uber app that just didn’t work, to poor wifi infrastructure, to legislative challenges – to name but a few. The key thing is that both companies kept going, they rode their luck at times but they were successful because they perservered.
If at first you don’t succeed …
So, my advice is simple. If you have a good idea then go for it. And if you find yourself still alive at the bottom of your particular mountain just dust yourself off and start again.
There’s always another day.