We all want to be successful and have the potential to succeed. However, many of us have had to fight limiting beliefs about success since we were children. Those beliefs may have been introduced by the education system, religion, cultural norms or, even our own parents.
Before I decided to quit my job as a business consultant and become an entrepreneur, I knew I had to overcome my own limiting beliefs. I knew my desire to succeed would not be enough as long as I did not root out the fears and misconceptions that clouded my judgement.
To this end, I decided to study the lives of successful icons in business, science and politics, such as Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
I analyzed their struggles, failures and achievements through the lens of different frames of reference, including classical philosophy, Buddhism, behavioral psychology, strategic planning and SWOT analysis. The result was the following seven timeless principles of entrepreneurial success.
1. Solve one problem well.
Solving one problem is better than solving none; in fact, it could lead to solving them all.
Sometimes, business becomes so difficult that all we can see are problems.
When we find ourselves in this situation, let’s remember that by solving just one problem, we can, by extension, solve many of the others based on intrinsic systemic connections. Yes, successful people know the importance of turning their business struggles into scalable knowledge.
Thomas Edison might be one of the most iconic examples of this principle. We all know that Edison invented the incandescent light bulb. What many do not know is that other successful versions of this revolutionary device had been previously created by other people.
Edison’s smashing success came from combining his version of the electric lamp with other crucial lessons learned from solving other problems over the years, such as electricity generation and transmission. This allowed him to design, build and sell the first practical, commercially-viable lighting system in the U.S.
2. Success is more than a list of achievements.
Success is a way of learning from both achievement and defeat in order to keep moving forward regardless of the circumstances.
Achievement is the carrot, and defeat is the stick. If we are humble and know where we are going, both are equally useful for our long-term endeavors.
Walt Disney embodied this principle to its core as he was no stranger to failure. Disney was fired from Pesmen-Rubin due to declining revenue; and he had his first two businesses, Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists and Laugh-O-Gram Studio, go into bankruptcy until he finally achieved a sustainable business model with The Walt Disney Company.
3. Success is meant to be unstable.
Definitive stability equals death.
Entrepreneurship is the relentless pursuit of finite periods of unstable success. The key to long-term success is, then, to keep moving forward realizing that everything will always be in motion.
Steve Jobs was no stranger to this reality. He became very successful with his first company, Apple, from which he was later fired due to the financially underperforming Macintosh and clash of visions with then-CEO John Sculley. He then revolutionized the microcomputing industry with the ahead-of-its-time NeXT workstation, only to find out it was economically unfeasible for mass production.
In parallel, he made a fortune with Pixar, the digital animation spin-out from Lucasfim, which he helped fund and later sold to The Walt Disney Company. All throughout this time, Jobs experienced firsthand the volatile nature of high-stakes business success, leaving behind a legacy of resilience and reinvention.
4. Weaknesses are blessings in disguise.
Weaknesses are the seeds of the greatest strengths.
Conversely, uncontrolled strengths always become weaknesses. In fact, the greatest human strengths, namely courage and humility, only flourish in the soil of weakness.
British Billionaire Richard Branson has experienced the strengthening results of fighting, and then working with, a complex weakness. Branson found out he suffered from dyslexia in his early twenties. This cognitive - not intellectual -- obstacle led him to pursue and value simplicity as the cornerstone for his business ventures.
By the same token, he realized the value of surrounding himself with talented individuals and delegating accordingly. So, even though simplicity and delegation are key success factors for any business, for Branson, they are a matter of survival. This is why he takes them so seriously.
5. Knowledge is just an approximation to reality, not reality itself.
Whoever wants to be successful must possess knowledge, but more importantly, must be able to challenge it.
When we cling to current knowledge as if it were an absolute truth, it becomes the seed of future failure. In today’s ever-moving economy, knowledge can be as ephemeral as the blink of an eye. Albert Einstein might be the most iconic symbol of this principle.
With his Special and General Theories of Relativity, Einstein broke the universal model of Physics by reinterpreting the behavior of light and gravity. His theories, now proven, have given way to technologies we now take for granted such as nuclear power plants, positron emission tomography and GPS systems. Einstein challenged conventional knowledge and literally changed the world forever.
6. Adopt a worldview that enhances your vision.
A vision of the future defines your objectives. A worldview defines the path to said objectives based on a working model of the world.
If your worldview is fundamentally flawed, your vision will never be realized. Successful entrepreneurs have a keen understanding of business, the economy and life in general that is reflected in their worldviews.
Mother Teresa’s charity work, an entrepreneurial endeavor of massive success, is an enlightening example of this principle.
Motivated by a higher calling and a fervent religious belief system, Mother Teresa committed her life to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”
Her vision of the highest virtue would have been unachievable without a sensible worldview to support her ministry. Mother Teresa knew she needed to relate to politicians, diplomats and business people to fulfill her vision.
It is this clarity that allowed her, among other important achievements, to rescue 37 children trapped in a frontline hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas. Working with the Red Cross, Mother Teresa traveled to the distressed hospital to extract the young patients.
Related: The Power of Good Advice
7. Empathy enhances your chance to succeed.
True empathy is about self-confidence. If we know who we are and what we want, we will be able to understand others more clearly and relate to them more effectively, regardless of petty differences in personal tastes and styles.
Similarly, we will be able to choose our partners, allies and employees with clarity of purpose. All of this will help us identify synergy opportunities that were previously invisible, and resolve problems that were previously unsolvable.
Nelson Mandela took this principle to another level by reaching out to political opponents in order to end Apartheid in South Africa. After 27 years of unjust imprisonment, Mandela’s ability to establish empathetic relationships allowed him to form a political coalition, comprising white and black politicians, in order to refound the Republic of South Africa as a fully democratic, non-segregationist state.
These principles have guided my path as a business owner, speaker and coach. I have also found that these principles address people’s most common misconceptions about the risks, challenges and benefits of becoming an entrepreneur.