The tenacity of entrepreneurs is impressive. It can also be oppressive, even to them. It's undeniably true that few paths in life take the vision, the courage, the commitment, and the sheer energy that birthing and building something new does. But these qualities can also be your undoing.
Everything in a new venture - ideas, roles, products, customers, and more - has its rightful place and reason for being there. But what makes something necessary, useful, or otherwise "right" is inevitably a matter of timing and circumstances. Intellectually we know this to be true. In practice however, we're often so heads-down and determined to deliver that we miss when the conditions shift. That's why if you really want your venture to succeed, ongoing, and in ever-greater ways, you should think seriously about shutting it down.
The suggestion isn't flippant. The idea comes from an act of entrepreneurial perspective taking that innovator, noted chef, and author Alice Waters takes annually. Speaking about her world-renowned Northern California restaurant Chez Panisse, Waters once told me, "Every year I threaten to close the doors." Far from an idle threat, she seriously contemplates it. She goes through a deep thinking, often cathartic process of reevaluating why Chez Panisse should stay open. Waters annually asks herself questions such as these:
- Why is this the best way to meet my larger mission and goals?
- Why is this the best use of precious resources I'm lucky enough to have?
- Why is another version of the vision and how to achieve it not a better answer, and a better use of my time?
And she doesn't do it alone. She asks those around her - those who in every way make Chez Panisse and her other ventures possible, to ask themselves the very same questions. After all, the answers to such queries are never uniform. And the only reason for Waters and her team to be together ongoing is if they all believe their answers to these questions validate their continued collaboration.
Beyond the counterintuitive boldness of her act, what Alice Waters does in thinking seriously about shutting down a venture she deeply loves and has devoted much of her life to, is give her passion new life and reaffirm its purpose. There need not be an endpoint in any pursuit, as long as the reasons remain strong to press on. Neither joke nor sacrifice, Waters's unconventional soul-searching is a conscious choice. The real sacrifice comes when you fail to pause, deliberately, as Waters does, to question and consider why you keep the doors open and instead tenaciously and blindly march on. Then again, maybe sacrifice isn't the right word for such passivity. Maybe a better word is stupidity.