You don't often hear the word "failure" associated with Venus Williams. In her professional tennis career, Williams has earned seven Grand Slam singles titles, four Olympic gold medals, and the No. 1 world ranking on three separate occasions. Off the court, she's launched two successful businesses, an athletic apparel line called EleVen by Venus and the interior design firm VStarr Interiors.
Still, Williams concedes that she's made plenty of mistakes--from psyching herself out before a major match to peddling dark-colored clothing in the spring months, when customers opt for lighter colors. At the Inc. Women's Summit in New York City on Thursday, she spoke about how she has applied lessons from those mistakes to her athletic and business endeavors.
"It's OK to fail, but if you don't learn from it and you keep making those mistakes, then shame on you," the entrepreneur told the audience of entrepreneurs and investors.
As an example, she reflected on the 1999 U.S. Open, where her worries over her quarterfinal match got the better of her.
"On the court, I was just so nervous, I let fear take over," Williams remembered. "And the next thing I know, I'm shaking hands the loser."
But she learned from her mistake, as her subsequent tournament success demonstrates. The No. 1 key to succeeding--in life, and in business--is stopping fear from getting in your way, she said.
Here are three more tips from Williams's keynote:
1. Lean into your passion
The work required to meet major goals can only happen when you love what you do, Williams said.
"You have to have that desire to compete," she added. "You have to bring passion to what you do every single day."
2. Embrace change
Williams pointed out that there is no single "winning formula." It changes over time, depending on the particular challenge, opponent, or obstacle.
"Winning the big tournaments has always taken a different equation," she said. "The players that are able to adjust and be agile are the ones that continue to improve over time."
Sometimes, she added, change can be incremental and still have a major impact. While her companies' values remain largely the same, she said, "it's the nuances that make the difference."
3. Innovate constantly
Entrepreneurs aren't afraid to voice bold ideas, and Williams is no exception. Consider that she led the charge for women players to earn the same pay as the men at Wimbledon. In 2005, she appealed to the All England Club, the tennis tournament's governing body, and the following year published an op-ed in the London Times calling for pay equity. Another year later, Williams became the first woman at the tournament to earn the same prize money as the male champion ($1.4 million).
"Being able to innovate is a huge key to success," Williams told the audience. "That doesn't mean you have to have the world's best idea. Sometimes it could be so different that the world's not ready for it." The smartest entrepreneurs, she added, take calculated risks and reap big rewards.