People have a tendency to emulate those that they look up to. Fans of movie stars think that by copying their idol’s hair style or expression would somehow make them look like their hero. With herd mentality some businessmen enter into new businesses looking at the success someone has achieved in that field. There is no assessment of their own strength or weakness. They see a pie and they want a piece of it. Even if it means just getting the crumbs. This herd mentality hardly ever yields anything good. Entrepreneurship is about originality and new ideas. Just because you are a successful furniture manufacturer does not mean that you will also become successful in captive power generation.
Consider the history of mankind’s attempts to fly. Early researches observed strong correlations between being able to fly and having feathers and wings. Stories of men attempting to fly by strapping on wings date back hundreds of years. They were replicating what they believed allowed birds to soar: wings and feathers. But when humans attempted to follow what they believed were “best practices” of the most successful fliers by strapping on wings and then jumping off towers and flapping hard… they failed. The mistake was that although feathers and wings were correlated with flying, the early aviators did not understand the fundamental cause that enabled creatures to fly.
The breakthrough in human flight did not come from crafting better wings or using more feathers. It was brought about by the Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli and his book Hydrodynamica. In 1738, he outlined what was to become known as Bernoulli’s principle, a theory that when applied to flight explained the concept of lift. We had gone from correlation (feathers and wings) to cause (hydrodynamics). Bernoulli’s principle laid the foundation for human flight and enabled humans to fly to heights and at speeds which no winged creature ever could. If our forebears had continued the pursuit of flying with wings and feathers, history would be replete with the names of many brave men who gave their lives jumping of tall structures.
We want short cuts. Everyone is looking for the magic formula for something. This desperate need has created thousands of writers who peddle books with alluring titles like “How to become rich in 3 months” or “The 7 Rules for achieving Happiness” etc. Unfortunately, none of this quackery works. Rather than copy others, one should try to understand the “cause” behind why something happens.
Malcolm Gladwell has authoured an excellent book titled “Outliers”. He cites many examples of highly successful people from Bill Gates to The Beatles to successful Jewish lawyers in New York and provides evidence that the reasons behind the success of these people was not singularly on account of their natural talent or hard work. There are many factors which contribute to the success of an individual or a business. Bill Gates is undoubtedly a very intelligent person who also worked extremely hard to reach the pinnacle of success. However, a fact that may go unnoticed is that Providence has also favoured him over so many others who may have had an equal or perhaps a higher intelligence than Mr. Gates. Bill Gates was born in 1955. That makes him 20 years old in 1975 when the computer revolution took place. Being 20 years old was the perfect age to take maximum advantage of the opportunity that this revolution provided. At 20 years of age a person has acquired the full physical and intellectual growth and is at the absolute prime of his life. Unlike a person in his thirties or older, a 20 year old who is not married and does not have children or a steady job is not tied down to the “safe path” on account of his responsibilities to his family or the demands of his existing job. Therefore, being born in 1955 was a crucial factor behind Mr. Gates’s success. This is also evidenced by the fact that so many other tech. moguls were also born around the same time. Steve Jobs-1955. Eric Schmidt- 1955, Bill Joy- 1954. Scott McNealy- 1954. The list goes on.
The gift of Providence for Bill Gates does not end with his date of birth. In 1968 Bill Gates was a student at a private school called Lakeside. Fortuitously for Bill Gates, Lakeside did something very unusual for a High School in 1968. It spent three thousand dollars to buy a computer which was unheard of in those days. This gave Bill Gates the rare opportunity to learn computer programming as an eighth grader in 1968. From the moment that Lakeside installed the computer, Bill Gates started living in the computer room. “I was very lucky” is how Bill Gates describes his life. Without the computer being installed in his school when he was at the most curious stage of his life as an eighth grader, Bill Gates may not have been what we know him as.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book Outliers as an investigation into finding the “cause” behind the success of the exceptional people he refers to as Outliers. He ends the book saying, “The Outlier in the end, is not an Outlier at all.” People are not successful simply on account of what they are. Being successful is a combination of so many different things coming together. There is no one single attribute or even a combination of attributes which can cause success. IQ helps but there are so many people with high IQ who have not achieved much in life. Chris Langan has an IQ of 200 (compare to Albert Einstein’s IQ of 160). Langan has spent 20 years working as a bouncer at a bar. Hard work is essential but it is not a guarantee of success. There are millions of people who have worked very hard but failed. Financial resources do not matter. Almost all great fortunes were started on shoe string budgets by ordinary people.
It is a game of chance. It is a matter of persistence. Keep trying till all the relevant coordinates become aligned to give the desired result. Thomas Edison failed 1000 times before he successfully invented the light bulb. Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded. Abraham Lincoln failed as a businessman, failed as a lawyer and lost 5 elections before finally being elected the President of the United States of America.
Capitalist countries in the western world look at failure as a badge of honour. Failure is a valuable experience gained in the school of hard knocks. Financiers consider a businessman more qualified if he has a track record of some failed ventures. The entire capitalist system promotes free enterprise and encourages risk taking by entrepreneurs. This is the reason why America has been at the forefront of innovation for almost a century. Elon Musk is risking billions of dollars in what some would call an absurd project to colonize Mars.
Unfortunately, our society is intolerant of failure. We are quick to incriminate people if they fail. This debilitates free enterprise. Individuals who have a risk taking entrepreneurial spirit find this environment suffocating and oppressive. Banks start the relationship with young budding entrepreneurs with suspicion. Personal guarantees and collateral security are a sine qua non for securing finance no matter how viable the project may be. This regressive culture filters out many capable young prospective entrepreneurs from middle class families. The field is thus restricted to scions of established wealthy families.
As explained above, success is not guaranteed for anyone. It is a combination of so many different elements coming together. In America, 80 percent of startups fail. But the system there encourages people who have fallen to get up and just brush themselves to start all over again wearing another proud badge of failure. If our economy is to grow then we must develop a culture which encourages free enterprise where failure is an integral part of entrepreneurship. Young people should feel motivated to try their new ideas and their ambitions should not be thwarted by regressive financial bureaucracy. New entrepreneurs should not try to enter the saturated sectors just because they see some people have become successful in that sector. Copying others is never a good idea. Just as you will not be able to fly by trying to copy the birds, you will not achieve business success by copying others.
The “cause” behind success is persistence. Keep trying; be persistent. Your day will come.