Every entrepreneur looks to emulate their business heroes throughout their own journey. The wealthy, famous and successful are often asked how they would do it, if they had to do it all over again. This question is almost always asked at the peak of their journey, reflecting after a long career of wins. And their answers are often taken as golden advice. But there's a problem, the logic is often flawed and there's a better question to ask. The most valuable question to ask successful entrepreneurs isn't about what they'd change.
The single most valuable question to ask successful entrepreneurs is clear, specific, proven and can be repeated.
Asking successful people what they'd do differently, isn't the same as asking them for tactical decisions of their past. It's asking them to share new, and improved yet unproven ideas. Many an entrepreneur confuse one for the other.We often fail to recognize that past success in one area does not guarantee future success in another.
1. Clear and specific stories describe the experience and inform your process.
Knowing the specific decisions and actions that brought success to others can help you on your journey. This is true without a doubt. But knowing how they would approach the same challenge with different circumstances, or even a new challenge is a different ball of wax altogether. And the answers are not nearly as valuable because the likelihood of successful application is decreased.
2. Shifting to the hypothetical scenarios allows the pros to guess what would be better in the land of make believe.
Those who made it big, spend time reflecting on their past and pontificating on prescriptions for others. This often results in new ideas based on unproven theories that assume different conditions.
There is no escaping the revisionist bias either. The reflective advice from the successful is often filled with rose-colored idealism. Wealth, regret and lessons learned often motivate us to change the story. Those lessons learned inspire new ideas, that are often widely espoused before being thoroughly tested.
3. The path behind us looks completely different and harder to describe at 20,000 feet.
A good way to explain this is to think of Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In the story, a crude, mean man, amasses tons of wealth, reflects upon his life in old age and realizes he focused on the wrong things in life. After a series of spiritual interventions, he becomes generous and espouses goodwill towards his fellow man.
The shift in both attitude and tact, is remarkably easier to do, when your own basic, material needs are met. The dirty truth of it is the flawed, dysfunctional and even toxic attitudes and actions helped bring the original success. By attempting to deny or cut out the upsides that came from these attitudes, we start working with different equations.
4. Asking for the crib notes from the proven playbook removes the guess work and gets you what actually works.
Our desire to redeem ourselves is so strong. Mistakes large and small are guaranteed on the entrepreneurial path. We often unconsciously project our baggage and embed corrective action into our advice to others. While we may find it comforting, we usually don't know for sure that the changes would produce better results. And Elon Musk and Bill Gates are no less human.
So, if you're trying to hustle from A to B, and you run into Bill Gates or Elon Musk on an elevator, don't ask them what they'd do differently. Ask them to share specifics from their playbook. Try to learn an emulate their process. Details from the proven playbook of the successful are more valuable than their best guesses for new challenges.