Take advice for instance. Too much of a good thing may be a bad thing.
Successful entrepreneurs are hard-working, diligent searchers. They are always looking for improvements and solutions anywhere they can find them. Sometimes too much so.
I was reminded of this in a meeting at Inc. Magazine last week. I was attending a small business CEO Roundtable there with members of the Inc. 5000 Business Owners Council. The evening was devoted to exploring our various challenges in a frank, discreet, collegial setting. A lot of discussion was usefully had, but I was grabbed by the plaintive statement of one member, who received quite a load of advice, that she felt a bit overwhelmed with such the abundance of impassioned suggestions as came forth.
She had a point. Ultimately entrepreneurship is a solitary game. It is a fine line that must be walked between going completely with our own guts and following an overwhelming plethora of well-intended, seemingly authoritative advice.
I believe in radically institutionalizing systematic change for any business within the bounds of reasonable prudence. But you can’t do everything and time is the entrepreneur’s greatest asset. Learning where to alot our attention is crucial to success.
There is no template answer to this. Last month I met a successful founder of a fashion accessories company. She told me of her diligence in following extensive and variegated advice she received for her entrepreneurial membership group, which happened to be EO (Entrepreneur’s Organization), an association offering mentoring, peer networking, and education. (There are several of these organizations around for founders and entrepreneurs.) The amount of ideas suggested by her colleagues that she had tried to implement was quite staggering. It tired me out just listening to it. Most of it was ineffective for her already successful company. She clearly needed to do less experimental innovation, not more, to my mind.
I guess I think America has become too much a magical advice culture. Joe Queenan of the WSJ wrote about this recently. He says:
“The U.S. is addicted to advice. Americans honestly believe that someone out there knows how to fix all our problems. Maybe Oprah. Maybe Dr. Phil. Maybe
Barack Obama. Maybe Ayn Rand. Newspapers, magazines and television are filled with advice about health, finances, raising children dieting. Don’t smoke. Don’t text on I-95. Don’t allow your teenage son Vlad to disappear into his bedroom for the next decade. Exercise 30 minutes a day. Never buy stocks form men wearing ostrich-skin shoes. Why, then, are so many of us miserable, bankrupt, overweight chain smokers with horrible, illiterate kids? The advice was out there.” (WSJ, Feb. 8,2014, p. C-1)
Excessive attention to advice can vitiate the very essence of an entrepreneur. In most successful entrepreneurs I know there is a certain je ne sais quois that really animates their success, which perhaps even they cannot quite articulate, but is, nevertheless, their true center. That core must remain the Shining City on the Hill for long-term effectiveness in creative business, no matter how compelling the external advice.
For sure, I can tell you one thing to be wary of—that being the cheap advice that comes out of the hungry desperation endemic to massive networking events, which can often be a mad array of self-important, but insecure people, seeking to impress.
My own feeling about advice comes from the wisdom of AA and other 12 Step programs. One of their maxims is “Stick with the winners.” This does not mean to toady up to the rich, the famous, and the successful. It does mean listen to people who effectively walk their talk over an extended period with practical effectiveness and personal humility.
One of the earliest practitioners of “success” literature was author Napoleon Hill, who wrote Think and Grow Rich. Hill said, “The number one reason people fail in life is because they listen to their friends, family, and neighbors.” Thanks, Napoleon.