Why a ‘Learn-as-You-Go’ Mentality Is Key to Entrepreneurial Success
Posted on December 19, 2013
Have you ever noticed how much businesspeople love to talk about their success?
The majority of these men and women rarely talk about their failures; for most people, mistakes are swept under the rug and forgotten as quickly as possible. But mistakes can actually provide the best learning opportunities for those courageous enough to embrace them.
When people tell me about their wild success and all the money they’ve made, I like to ask them to tell me what they did wrong. If they can’t name any of their past mistakes or start to sputter, I know immediately that I can discount most of what they’ve just said.
The Danger of Following Someone Else’s Success
While success stories can provide inspiration to entrepreneurs, continuously listening to others tell you how great they are can be toxic if you begin to believe that they must know the best way of doing something. When you internalize their way as the “right” way, you begin mimicking them instead of striking out on your own and finding a way to improve things.
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In a recent interview, I was asked, “What is something you wish someone would have told you before starting your first business?”
The answer was easy for me: nothing!
It wouldn’t have mattered what anyone told me; I’m the type of person who needs to experience things myself. What works for one person or business might not work for another, and I would rather make mistakes and learn from them than follow tired advice from someone who has experienced success. This is what I call a “learn-as-you-go” mentality.
Don’t Rely on How Things Are ‘Supposed’ to Be Done
Having a learn-as-you-go mentality means I never assume that someone has it all figured out. Likewise, I never assume I have all the answers, either. I firmly believe that anything can be improved upon, no matter how streamlined or widely accepted it may be.
About 15 years ago, when my partner and I started a company selling travel products online, neither of us knew anything about travel. Everyone seemed to have an opinion about how we should do it, but we didn’t care how it was “supposed” to be done or how everyone else did it. We wanted to do it the most efficient way.
We combined his Internet marketing expertise and my knowledge of logistics and operational efficiencies to develop our own methods and software from scratch.
It worked! We pioneered selling entertainment attractions online, making millions in the process. And I firmly believe that we never would have been as successful if we had just listened to how our business was “supposed” to work.
Did we make mistakes? Yes! But we viewed every mistake and potential failure as an opportunity to improve. This gave us the ability to be flexible and adapt as we learned, and we built our company framework to make it easy to change and grow.
A Learn-as-You-Go Mentality Helps You Adapt
A fear of making mistakes is the main reason most entrepreneurs choose the “safe” way of running their businesses. They follow best practices and tried-and-true methods to minimize their chances of failure, but sticking with the status quo doesn’t make them invincible.
Mistakes are inevitable, no matter which route you choose. The difference is that entrepreneurs who allow themselves to be guided through the startup process are less likely to adapt.
Imagine an antelope born and raised in a zoo. He learns from an early age when he will be fed and where he can roam. But what happens when he’s turned loose in the wild? He’s eaten!
Entrepreneurs who can’t learn as they go, challenge the status quo, or find creative solutions to problems put themselves at a huge evolutionary disadvantage. At worst, they end up becoming part of the digestive process. At best, they never reach their full potential, and their companies are never as strong as they could be.
So don’t rely on others to tell you how to run your business. Instead, adopt a learn-as-you-go mentality, and use every misstep as an opportunity to improve. You will become more efficient, learn to adapt, and create solutions that are better than the way things are “supposed” to be done. And when someone asks you about your mistakes, you’ll be proud to talk about the events that helped shape your company into something great.