On Wednesday, October 14, several New York area business owners got together in a beautiful penthouse overlooking The Hudson River to discuss professional setbacks and forks-in-the-road.
While talking about difficult decisions over wine and cheese sounds like the last thing most people would want to do in a sky-high New York Condo, it was spot on for these Inc. Business Owners Council members. The speakers, Tom Clarke, former CEO of TheStreet.com and Sam Ewen, CEO of Interference, Inc., kicked off the event with a few roller-coaster tales from their business life, including Mr. Ewen's hair-raising tale of shutting down the entire city of Boston.
And yet, while the talk began with a sobering discussion about the difficulties that business owners face regularly, leave it to entrepreneurs to find a silver lining in anything—including failure.
To be sure, practically every business owner has faced new challenges in the past year; ones that have required them to make "pivot" decisions—moments when you've got to change direction in order to move the business forward. But, rather than dwell on the problems these economic times have created, most in the room agreed that their businesses would need to learn how to pivot constantly to succeed in the future. These enlightened entrepreneurs realized that, rather than avoid the conflict which comes along regularly for any business, they'd meet it head on—placing themselves and their staffs in a permanent war-footing with change and uncertainty. They described ways to empower their entire team to detect early warning signs of difficulty and respond, allowing the organization to remain in a constant state of "pivot."
It reminded me of something that Terry Benzschawel, Managing Director of Citibank told the group just one month earlier. He suggested that the downturn of the past year—as painful as it was—was the proverbial forest fire, annihilating the weakest plant life in the forest of capitalism and clearing the way for the strongest to thrive.
Not only was the group's point-of-view about building a constantly pivoting organization extremely actionable and inspiring, it's also a prime example of what separates the entrepreneur from most everyone else. When I surveyed employees about their most common response to professional setbacks for my book, The Influence of Affluence, they said, "they gave up and tried something new." When we asked people with million-dollar net worths the same question, the most common response to the failure was to "try again in a different way."
That about summed up the attitude in that penthouse, high above the sky on the evening of 10/14 at 6PM. It was a sight to behold.