I’ve always enjoyed spending time on the water. Few things in life are as soothing as grabbing the family, hopping on the boat and spending a day on the lake.
It’s interesting how many business cliches have come out of nautical life. Righting the ship, weathering the storm, all hands, passing with flying colors -- there are plenty of comparisons to be drawn between embarking on a boating journey and starting or maintaining a business.
However, my favorite has to be the idea of course correction. While not limited to boating, the idea of adapting to failure, overcoming unexpected obstacles and plotting a new course for your business, strategy or idea is an integral part of entrepreneurial success.
Course correcting is an invaluable skill for entrepreneurs. It’s one of those skills that you either learn willingly or it drags you along with it, kicking and screaming the whole way. If you’re not course-correcting, you’re not taking enough risks.
Risks are the name of the game in business in general, but specifically in entrepreneurship. To be an entrepreneur is to live surrounded by risk. You shouldn’t let fear of drive you. Remember: no one gets it right the first time.
Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. An insignificant percentage of people get it right the first time, and that kind of lightning isn’t something that can be bottled, studied and replicated. You will fail. But here’s a little something they won’t teach you in business school: failure can be exciting. Failure means that you’re trying new things, testing old boundaries and exploring new possibilities. You’re off the edge of the map.
It’s through that exploration that you discover something new. If you find yourself never changing course, you’re playing it too safe. That mentality might be sustainable for a time, but eventually long-term success and growth requires a leap of faith (or 10).
Effective course-correcting requires humility.
In business and in life, you have to know when a mistake is a mistake. You can fight tooth and nail to cover up a mistake or to redirect attention elsewhere, but all you’re doing is delaying the inevitable and proving yourself an ineffective leader.
When a mistake is made, you have to be humble enough to own up to it, to your co-workers, stakeholders, shareholders and whomever else. I’m not saying it isn’t difficult, but only with that kind of humility can you learn to effectively move forward after a misstep and regain the confidence of those around you.
Without course corrections, your competitors will out-maneuver you.
Business today is more agile than it has ever been, and you have to match that agility if you want to be in this for the long haul. Adaptability is key to long-term, sustainable growth. In today’s economy and business climate, it’s incredibly difficult to corner a market. You’re not going to develop something that is impervious to usurpation. Technology and the consumer simply moves too quickly.
Somewhere out there, a competitor you don’t even know exists is preparing to solve problems you didn’t even know you had.
Guess what? That’s OK. That same agility and adaptability will allow you to learn from your competition and react to their moves in the market -- at least you’ll have the opportunity to do so. Miss out on that opportunity and enjoy your slide into obsolescence.
Course-correcting means there’s more than one course.
It may sound obvious, but the very idea that course correction is possible implies that there’s more than one avenue to your destination. Having to adapt your strategies or plans to ever-changing business conditions doesn’t even necessarily mean you’ve made an error. It’s simply the nature of the beast.
It’s important not to treat failure as a dead end. Failure is a fork in the road. What you choose to do afterwards will ultimately end up defining both you and your business.
Related: The 4 Secrets to a Successful Pivot