One thing that we can say about the time we live in is that it is dotted by uncertainty. The markets, the political climate, technology and the ever present cultural acquiescence to change mark an era of uncertainty. As an entrepreneur, uncertainty is almost a commodity. Like equity, and patents and products, uncertainty is one of the many silos an entrepreneur has to deal with every day, trading one known or unknown for another.
I so often liken entrepreneurship to baseball where .333 is a huge batting average, and where one day you can go 0 for 4 and the next day you go 3 for 4. The 3 for 4 performance then begins a 10 game hitting streak which is followed by a slump. So uncertainty and change mark both baseball and entrepreneurship. To combat the uncertainty of the world of entrepreneurship I offer three lessons I have learned:
Control what you can control
Be vigilant and aware of what is going on both inside your company and outside. This awareness lessens the chance of uncertainty, and allows for greater flexibility as you grow the company.
For example, if your product does three things, but only one of them really well, the presence of a new product in development by a competitor or a greater need in the marketplace for one aspect of what your product does well may necessitate a shift in product focus.
What you can’t control is the market, what you can control is how you meet a need. You can control the pivot of your product.
Don’t buy your own narrative
As entrepreneurs, we need to be focused and headstrong about what we are doing, so much so that we can become locked into a narrative. This is a very dangerous place to be, especially when there is change going on around us.
For example, if we decide that our product or service has a particular focus, let’s say it solves an anticipated e-commerce problem that many online retail stores are going to experience in the future, or we have a product that we believe is going to be ubiquitous in every household. These become important focal points for our products.
The prevailing times and the prevailing markets often work against where we are and what we are trying to do. This was the case with Research In Motion (RIM) and the Blackberry. Once ubiquitous, the blackberry did not change with the times. The declining market share, the presence of the iPhone and the android platforms lead to its decline. Further, the company experienced a severe inability to attract new talent to its headquarters in Canada. The confluence of these factors sent the company, once leading the market for mobile devices, into a downward spiral.
Empathy always wins
Empathy is a word that is often thrown around in our culture. It comes up so often now it is associated with the issues around Augmented Reality (AR). The question posed is whether AR will increase empathy because it brings people to experience things they otherwise could not experience, or does it take people away from reality and place a bigger wedge between their understanding of themselves and others. This debate will go on for a long time as the artificial intelligence world continues to grow.
I use empathy here to make it clear that as an entrepreneur we lead with focus and energy, and so much concentration on our journey. However, we need empathy as a guide, both for our company culture but also for those who will use our products and services. A company cannot remain viable if their CEO has lost his/her moral compass.
How do I get the best working environment so that everyone can flourish? Do I allow a company culture that permits prejudice, and “attitude” or bullying amongst the employees that then hinders a free flow of ideas and outcomes? (No!)
In the end, empathy always wins, because it brings you, the entrepreneur, closer to your employees, it unites a company culture, and it brings you closer to your consumers.
So as we look at these three ways in which we can help to control uncertainty they hold true for both entrepreneurship and baseball. Yankees’ rookie, Aaron Judge, certainly has a large narrative around his amazing athleticism and ability to play baseball. Every day he works hard at his craft and doesn’t buy the narrative. In order to remain centered and focused, he keeps his 2016 batting average .179 on his phone to remind him of where he came from, how easy it is to slip into a horrible slump and go from the .299-.300 he is batting now to there. It keeps him humble and focused, regardless of his performance at the previous at-bat. As entrepreneurs, we too need to be humble, control only what we can and not buy our own narrative. We need to remain aware of others in our lives, our employees, and our customers, to make sure that we are meeting their needs on our way to success.