If you google Entrepreneurship Principles, or a similar search, you’ll find a wide array of results covering anything from leadership to passion, discipline, focus, vision and many other “soft” traits that tend to be more abstract in nature.
But from what I’ve seen over my 14 years of starting and building companies, at their core most entrepreneurs are very practical people, and for those who want to develop practical skills I felt the need to devote an article to what works when the rubber meets the road, day in and day out.
I’ve compiled below the 5 pillars that form, in my experience, the foundation of a successful entrepreneurial career.
Pillar #1: Stay Away from Shiny Objects
Entrepreneurs are easy to distract — there, I said it! Now, this is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that their minds are always inquisitive.
This unique nature of the entrepreneurial mind is part of its DNA and when properly managed it can lead to great outcomes.
And that’s the key: when properly managed. In order to achieve success, you’ll need to learn to manage your entrepreneurial impulses. If you lose control of your excitable brain at a time that calls for intense focus (like, when you need to execute) it’ll unravel and sabotage your progress.
The shiny-object syndrome is the death knell of entrepreneurial achievement, because it tends to rear its ugly head the most when you’re facing challenges.
So, as you approach a seemingly insurmountable roadblock that may take a lot of energy to overcome, your entrepreneurial mind will be tempted to rationalize the roadblock away by replacing it with a “shiny object” as an alternative solution.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If you’re brainstorming ideas, then go to town and examine any and all shiny objects that pop into your consciousness. But, once you’ve chosen a strategy to implement, make sure you use all the willpower you can muster to keep you on track without distractions.
Pillar #2: Iterate Quickly Through Failures Until You Reach a Successful Outcome
When you’re shooting for a new outcome, something that holds great promise but that you’ve never attempted before, you’ll often find that your initial choice of paths ends on a brick wall.
At this point your mind will be bombarded with all the entrepreneurial tropes under the sun: “never give up,” “don’t take no for an answer,” “barrel through” and so on, and you’ll be very tempted to oblige.
But here’s the thing, that brick wall you’re facing is not there to test your will, it’s a signpost to tell you that your current approach needs to be adjusted, and here’s the best part: the information you need to make that adjustment happens to be “written” on that wall.
Let me illustrate this concept with a famous example. Thomas Edison once said that it took his team 10,000 tries to get the incandescent light bulb to work. But the reality is that it took him 9,999 failures to get there (i.e. 9,999 brick walls!).
In effect, each brick wall informed him and his team of a variable that needed to be tweaked in order to get them closer to their desired outcome.
So, instead of hitting your head against that first brick wall and giving up, or trying to tear it down with a sledge hammer (at great emotional cost), take the failure for what it is: a useful data point, iterate through your failures as quickly as possible and move on to the next test.
Pillar #3: Focus 100% on the Task At Hand
Without a doubt, entrepreneurs have to deal with a lot of moving parts. Creating a successful business involves performing hundreds if not thousands of tasks.
Naturally, in order to be successful, these tasks need to follow a clear strategy and you have to resist the temptation to go off tangents that don’t support it (we talked about this in Pillar 1).
But herein lies another big trap for entrepreneurs: multitasking, that is, thinking that you’ll get better results if you perform many tasks simultaneously.
In fact, this is one of the worst mistakes you can make — feeling over-confident in your ability to do many things at the same time, as if you were a computer time-sharing multiple tasks.
Here’s the thing though, computers can multitask because they never get tired, they don’t misjudge and they don’t have to think creatively in order to problem-solve.
So, I’m going to propose a revolutionary concept: always monotask. Do one task at a time until it’s completed. Not 2 or 3 or 5, even if you’re fully capable of doing them all.
Why? Because entrepreneurs are in the business of building new things, which invariably means facing new challenges. And in order to problem solve successfully you’ll need to engage your creativity, which requires peace of mind.
If all of a sudden you decide to work on five things at the same time, you’ll simply end up hitting a wall of creative exhaustion, severely limiting your ability to problem solve.
So, do yourself a big favor and tackle one task at a time to a happy conclusion before you jump on the next thing on your critical path, and if the situation calls for multitasking, then delegate the other tasks to members of your team (provided each works on a single task as well).
Pillar #4: Find Great Mentors and Constantly Solicit Feedback
Here’s a tip that’ll make the difference between an enjoyable entrepreneurial life and a frustrating one. No matter what you do, never try to reinvent the wheel.
While your entrepreneurial project might be unique, and perhaps never been done before, the mechanics of successful entrepreneurship have been around for centuries.
Don’t try to go it alone. Find and seek the advice of mentors you admire, because if you don’t your competitors will and you’ll never catch up to them! This point is so critical that I dedicate an entire section to it in my book about entrepreneurship and startups.
Now, sometimes it may be difficult to get a personal introduction at first, especially if you’re new in the game. But you can always begin by following them online, reading their opinion pieces, books, blogs, white papers, etc. until the opportunity to meet them in person presents itself.
If you can afford their fees, then hire them on a consulting basis. Although this approach is usually expensive, it’ll be money well spent because they’ll be able to accelerate your success in a way that will return many times your initial investment.
In terms of Pillar 2 above, they’ll be able to minimize the number of brick walls you’ll have to face on your way to your entrepreneurial goal.
And once you land a great mentor, never be afraid to ask them for feedback because you don’t want to look bad or seem uninformed or unsure — their job is never to judge you. They are simply there to help you.
Pillar #5: Eat Healthy, Work Out and Sleep Well
Last but not least, you need to focus on self-care. While it may be tempting as an entrepreneur to work yourself to the bone in pursuit of your dreams, this mindset will eventually backfire in a big way, oftentimes with severe health consequences.
Successful entrepreneurship requires constant creative problem solving and to be creative your mind needs to be sharp. But if your mental acuity is compromised by lack of sleep, excessive use of stimulants or a malnourished body, you’ll simply either make it to the finish line limping and exhausted, or you’ll burn out before you even get there.
To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to have a finely-tuned mind, because you never know what new challenges will come out of left field, so you need to have all of your mental reflexes in top shape at all times to react swiftly and decisively — just like an athlete.
And like an athlete, you need to follow a healthy regime to always be at the top of your game. So, make sure you always eat healthy, nutritional meals and not fast food and snacks from the vending machine down the hallway, exercise daily, and sleep no less than 7 hours daily.
Make an effort every day to strengthen these 5 pillars and you’ll significantly up your chances of getting to the entrepreneurial finish line victorious!