Saturday, November 8, 2014


some rhyme. some reason

-      Shankar Ramachandran

Nan-in was a great Japanese Master who lived in the Meiji era (1868 – 1912). One day, he was visited by Tes-hu – another Zen master who had gained a reputation for being a deep thinker.
Nan-in invited Tes-hu in for tea. Tes-hu said, “I have been pondering the reasons why some people are more successful than others. Many different things contribute, but I am convinced that the door to success is the ability to dream big.”

Nan-in smiled as he served tea, but said nothing. As he was leaving, Tes-hu turned and asked, “Master, you have not commented on my theory of success. Does this mean you agree?”.
Nan-in nodded, “You have come close, Tes-hu; dreaming may very well be the door to success, but the key to open that door lies in the ability to wake up.”
Tes-hu bows low and leaves.

This story illustrates a timeless lesson relevant to entrepreneurs today. Who does not aspire to succeed? Yet only a handful are able to turn their dreams into reality. In more contemporary terms, you need a bias for action to convert your dreams into plans. Businesses today are built by starting somewhere, even if that is a totally arbitrary starting point and improvising as you go along. A similar point is made by Tim Harford, in his book, ‘Adapt’, where he argues that today’s world is too complex and unpredictable and the ability to adapt and take baby steps will differentiate successful entrepreneurs from the rest.

But this implies a corollary and an even more critical skill that aspiring entrepreneurs will need to acquire, ‘ a tolerance for failure’. Improvising as you go along will give you speed, but it may also mean that you fail more often. This is not a bad thing, on the contrary – many successful people speak about the importance of failure in shaping who they are. In this famed commencement address to the graduating class in Harvard, JK Rowling says, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

But embracing failure is not an excuse to gamble recklessly. Taking baby steps towards your goal keeps your scale of failure survivable and ensures that you are able to simply pick yourself up and stay the course to success. Fail fast and fail clean but keep on moving.

Quite a bunch of related, but different themes around entrepreneurial qualities. Start somewhere, Improvise as you go along, Embrace failure, but keep it on a survivable scale.

But the most important of all, indeed the key to it all – is to start.


Note: For more posts by Shankar visit his blog

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