I’ve had one of those micro flashes of brilliance: I came up with a phrase that sounds really good in Hebrew, which would be the basis for this post. I tried and tried to translate it properly to English but I was not 100% successful, hence the title of this post.
Here’s the gist: during my business ventures, I had the most successful entertainment business in Israel, led by Limbo and Andromedia Entertainment. I was cocky. I was a lot younger back then so it’s better to say I was really cocky (I’ve toned it down a bit now). Anyway, we were doing this large-scale project so we brought in a consultant from McKinsey. I showed him the setup we had and asked him to help organize it.
The way I did it was, basically, by saying because I did this and that, the company was successful and on solid ground. It took him a few days to go over everything, after which he politely told me the reason why there is a tremendous amount of success had very little to do with me and my ‘this’ and thats’. The company was successful despite all of the things I was doing.
You can work against you
I was a cog in the wheel that was turning regardless of me. In a complex world of business, you begin to see how small you actually are, sometimes even insignificant, as opposed to your view of yourself.
Take micromanaging people on a daily basis as an example. I can be that guy: send 300 emails a day, push them to stay late to work on that one important project, and generally be breathing down their necks and up in their asses as much as I want.
Sometimes, that’s not the reason nor guarantee a business is successful. They just might be really great workers and my effect is minimal. Although you do some things all the time, there are other things that you haven’t noticed (yet) and have no correlation to you BUT which also make success possible and tangible.
All of this sounds tiny, I know, but it’s the way business is. Whenever I got partners on board or went into business ventures, there was always this belief: because I was very flexible and kind and always solved problems for everybody, those were the exact reasons – maybe – why I did great in those partnerships and ventures. Later on, I found out it was only partially true.
I was successful to a certain degree but I could have been far more successful in the grand scheme of things. Why? Because by solving other people’s problems, you’re not helping them evolve. I effectively prevented their growth and ended up with a problem. Things got better for a while but everybody else didn’t and we quickly reached the ceiling. I was stuck with a limited pool of skills both I and the business could depend on.
Would things be (far) worse if I didn’t execute as usual? Maybe. I’m led to believe they would’ve been better because entrepreneurship is a team sport and without support, you’ll be halfway there, at best.
A different perspective can reveal a different/hidden cause
There is a certain because-although correlation with thousands of examples. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks because it’s stubborn enough to correlate success with things it does to things it can’t actually see but can do better. Meaning, although the dog is doing some trick(s) and is great because of it, it can do a lot better than that.
There’s a great book that actually opened my mind to that concept: Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful blend of economic theory and various subjects not necessarily tied to the business environment.
There was a chapter about the amount of crime in New York, which experienced a significant drop in the mid-90s. Everybody thought it was because then-Mayor, now-presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani cleaned up the streets and instilled fear in the hearts of criminals. What Levitt claimed (based on his 2001 study with John Donahue) is that legalized abortion, introduced in 1973, actually led to a drastic cutback in crime some 20 years later, beginning in 1992 and peaking in 1995.
Incidentally, those would have been the apex crime-committing years of the unborn children as data showed males aged 18 to 24 were most likely to commit crimes. Fewer children brought to poor social environments meant less crime two decades after.
Whether the methodologies used are flawed or not and if an actual, statistically sound relationship between legalized abortion and the drop in crime exists is irrelevant now. It’s a great example of what can be uncovered when you think things through a little bit. The obvious correlation isn’t necessarily the right one. I can say this now as I grow older and come close to being a 40-year-old. You start correlating things with the benefit of memory and experience.
Learn from your every venture
Creatively, I was one of the top marketers in Israel and to this day, I don’t know if it’s because I understood the technology before anyone else. I was in the middle of the pivot between offline to online advertising, and very few people knew how to leverage it. Just maybe, I’m not this amazing creative strategist I think I am. Maybe I simply had a favorable situation which gave me an extra advantage over other people.
The point I’m trying to make is this: think in a different direction. When you do business, it’s so important not to make the same mistakes by constantly following the same patterns and habits. As a species, we tend to fall in love with the easy way out. Often, the things we do great don’t necessarily work out because of what we do – they work despite our efforts. It’s not a pleasant thought but hopefully, it’ll make you adopt a broader perspective about entrepreneurship. Trust me – you’ll need it in this line of work.