Wise entrepreneurs and investors understand that great ventures are forged, not in retreats or laboratories, but on the field of play, where offerings and delivery systems are subject to the eye-opening scrutiny that only the marketplace can provide. For this reason, most highly successful businesses end up looking very different from what founders intended or expected. The creative dynamic here is often like that of the proverbial sausage factory. Even if the end result tastes great, the process for getting there is not always pretty.
As a passionate founder, it is critical that you deal with everyday reality in a way that doesn’t sap your confidence and enthusiasm. Successful entrepreneurs are resilient, persevering in the face of adversity, and this fact is sometimes mistakenly interpreted to mean that they race past obstacles by focusing only on the positive aspects of a situation, by seeing the glass as “half full.” But skillful entrepreneurs prevail over problems precisely because they acknowledge and address them. They stare down reality every day, traversing tough passages without losing sight of the higher summit to which they aspire. “This is a very important lesson,” says Admiral James Stockdale, quoted by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose— with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”13
In a high-integrity startup environment, everything is open to scrutiny. Founders scrutinize their own thinking and invite the scrutiny of others. This includes the willingness to entertain skeptics and take a systematic look at one’s own doubts and fears. Rather than causing a downward spiral of increasing negativity, as positive thinking enthusiasts might argue, I have found this practice of surfacing and evaluating doubts to lead to even higher levels of confidence. It is the business equivalent of a child’s leaving the security of the bedcovers to confirm, once and for all, that no monster is hiding under the bed. As Czechoslovakia’s heroic former president, Vaclav Havel, once wrote, “Isn’t it the moment of most profound doubt that gives rise to new certainties?”14
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