What can you learn from the man who invented instant ramen noodles? A lot more than how to make a tasty meal in a cup in just a couple of minutes, according to Y Combinator-backed serial entrepreneur Nathan Kontny.

On Quartz recently, Kontny shared the inspiring story of Momofuku Ando, the Japanese entrepreneur who built and lost two empires (while also suffering imprisonment and torture) before inventing the salvation of broke and hungry college students--an idea worth $700 billion. Ando is a paragon of perseverance, clearly, and Kontny explores just what made him keep going despite such incredible setbacks.

Why people keep going against the odds

The answer, according to Kontny, is best found not by pondering why exceptionally resilient people keep going--Is it a certain character trait? Some commonality of circumstance?--but by flipping the question on its head. Why do people give up?

Kontny locates the answer in the work of Syracuse University professor Vincent Tinto and famed sociologist Emile Durkheim. A century or so might separate the two men, and they worked on very different problems--Tinto on why some students stay in college and others drop out, Durkheim on suicide--but both came to similar conclusions. Perseverance in the face of adversity isn't about sheer mental strength; it's about other people. Lack their support and you're far more likely to quit.

"If people aren't alone, they persevere," writes Kontny, summing up their findings.

The post is well worth a read in full if you're interested in a deep dive into Ando's fascinating story, as well as Kontny's personal entrepreneurial ups and downs and how he weathered them, but for those looking for a quick shot of wisdom on how to be more resilient in the face of difficulties, the lesson is simple--your social network is like a trapeze artist's safety net. Have a sturdy, large one and it'll catch you when you fall. Try to go without and you risk a catastrophic crash.

No cheesy networking required

The bottom line couldn't be clearer for Kontny--your social circle is what makes you resilient, or not--but he is also at pains to clarify what readers should take away from this lesson. What they shouldn't conclude is that it's time to hit that cheesy local networking event. What they should, is that you really do need to ask for help when you need it.

"I've gotten a lot of help from the friends and loose connections I've cultivated over the years," says Kontny. "And what I've found is that I don't have to be some schmoozing, glad-handing, awkward-networking-event-attending extraordinaire. I'm actually one of the most introverted people I know. If I'm at a conference, I'm in the back row so I can be the first to leave. If there's a party, I'm probably not at it." 

Quick emails, occasional catchups, and a genuine conversation now and again will do wonders for your resilience, but you actually have to reach out. "Don't be afraid to be honest with all of those connections and actually ask them for help," says Kontny. "Too many of us, especially those of us who run businesses, suffer in isolation. We tend to hide hard times from friends and people who could help. That's because challenges can feel a lot like failure. We're told to act confident and 'fake it till we make it.' That's nonsense." 

Do you have the kind of social network that will catch you when you stumble?

Published on: Nov 11, 2015