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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Go Back and Make It Work

I recently signed up for Quora and saw a question in the entrepreneur section asking what the single piece of advice I received that was the most important.  My response was “Go Back and Make It Work.” I will explain below.

I was a graduate student working in the field of Biochemistry.  As a graduate student, a major portion of the program was conducting novel research and making discoveries.  These discoveries usually ended up as published articles; either in journals or a thesis.  Each student had a thesis advisor and usually conducted the research in that advisor’s laboratory.

After a long review of projects, I selected one that contained a mix of different fields of chemistry and would provide a chance for broad training.  My advisor helped kick the research off by designing my first experiment.  I worked on this project for 6 months and could not get the experiment to work.  In desperation, I walked into my advisor’s office and told him the experiment did not work, “give something else to do”.  You guessed his response “You did not do it right, Go Back and Make It Work.”  He did not review my notebook, research experiments or anything.  He just said go back and make it work.  A few months later I actually resolved the problems and my research program was off to a great start.

As my career developed this philosophy of making things work became a goal.  In business or in science the continual seeking of ways around problems and making the situation work out became a way of life.  I developed an attitude that all problems have some type of solution and often more than one.  Working parallel approaches to resolving the problems often presented the resolution sooner.

I spent much of my time in business working on startups and turn-around of companies.  The problems grew and the number of options to resolve them grew as well. 

There is a moral of this story.  You may have heard it as a child “You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind to Do.”  I heard it as a child but never believed it.  It was not until graduate school when I was forced to complete things I thought were not possible that I became a believer.  With each success I became more optimistic about resolving problems and my confidence grew.

Optimism often improves as you learn to solve the difficult problems.  What is optimism?  This story will help explain it:

A child was told that there was not enough money for presents for the coming holiday.  The child had duties on the farm and routinely was asked to clean the stables.  He always wished for pony and this holiday he made the same request of his parents.

When the holiday drew near, the family had enough funds to buy fertilizer for the farm.  They had the manure delivered to the stables and placed in a stall.  One morning the parents awoke to hear an excited child in the stable shoveling and digging in the manure.  The horrified parents asked what the child was doing.  The child responded, “With All this Manure, There Has to be a Pony In Here Someplace.”  That is optimism!!

Summary:  Startups are not trouble free and entrepreneurs will have their fair share of problems.  There are no instructions on solving problems in startups. The resolution to the problem may be totally different than anyone may have expected.   “Remain optimistic” and don’t forget the title of this article: “Go Back and Make It Work.”

Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon