This article also appeared in Finweek Magazine in their 30-May-2013 issue
The 12th series of US singing competition American Idol reached its finale last week. 23-year-old vocal powerhouse Candice Glover took the title. With her talent you’d think she would have been a clear favourite. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, this was Candice’s third attempt on the show. She had auditioned for the ninth and 11th seasons but didn`t reach the finals until the 12th season. In a previous season, former Idols judge Simon Cowell condescendingly told Candice she would never amount to more than a lounge singer. But he didn’t bank on her strong sense of determination. “I always knew for some reason that it would happen if I kept going,” said Glover backstage after her 2013 win. There is a powerful lesson that many entrepreneurs can learn from Candice Glover: Persistence pays off.
The business and sports worlds are full of examples of legendary people that hit setbacks but persisted beyond failure to achieve incredible successes.
Thomas Edison’s school teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything and he should go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality. He went on to invent the light bulb. Shortly after Edison revealed his world-changing innovation, a French reporter asked: “Mr. Edison, how did it feel to fail 999 times?” As the legendary story goes, Thomas Edison simply smiled and responded: “Young man, I have not failed 999 times. I have simply found 999 ways how not to create a light bulb.” Edison learned from his mistakes—and he wasn’t discouraged by those 999 failed experiments. Most of us would have quit and walked away a lot sooner. Yet for Edison, each failure taught him valuable lessons that enabled him to tweak his invention until he eventually got it right.
Abraham Lincoln failed in business twice, and lost an astounding eight elections before becoming one of the greatest presidents in US history. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no original ideas. Way back in 1962, Dick Rowe and Mike Smith of Decca records turned down the Beatles, saying that guitar music was on the way out. Michael Jordan, whom many of his peer label as the greatest basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school basketball team and didn’t make it into his varsity basketball team because he was considered too short to play at that level.
Life is about taking risks, trying and failing, and then trying again. Success is about picking yourself up again after failing. If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived.
When you’re an entrepreneur, there will always be critics who tell you something cannot be done, your product or service will fail, customers won’t pay for it, there’s too much competition, or the risks are too great. If we listened to them, particularly when starting out, there would be no businesses in business.
Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, said “After coaching highly successful entrepreneurs for thirty years, I’ve identified persistence as the one crucial characteristic that they all share. Regardless of challenges, obstacles or setbacks, they keep going.”
Vic Verma was the President, Board Member and CEO of Savi Technology, a US-based firm that supplies real-time RFID (radio-frequency identification), GPS, GPRS and satellite tracking solutions for managing and securing global supply chain assets. In his 2004 lecture entitled “Building to Last: An Overnight Success after 15 Years” for Stanford’s Technology Ventures Program, Verma echoed this point about dogged persistence. In his words: “The reason we are at the right place at the right time is that we’ve just been there long enough, and that eventually the world turns around and says ‘Ah, this sounds like a good thing to do’. It is not about being the one with the brilliant idea. It is about dogged persistence.” The most important principle he emphasised was: “Love what you do, don’t do it just to get rich, because you may be doing it for a very long time.” So passion and persistence go hand in hand.
To drive home this point about persistence, I want to share with you a story about R.U. Darby and his uncle, a true story that is the stuff of legends. In the days of the US gold rush, the uncle went west to Colorado to search for gold. He staked his claim and began digging with a pick and shovel. After some weeks, he hit gold. However he needed machinery to go deeper and bring the ore to the surface. So he quietly covered the mine and returned home to Maryland to raise the capital for machinery. After telling his family and a few neighbours about his discovery, they raised the money needed, and he and R.U. Darby returned to Colorado to work the mine.
The first car of ore was mined and sent to the smelter. This revealed that they had hit one of the richest mines in Colorado. A few more cars of the ore would pay off all the debts, and then would come massive profits. Buoyant with anticipation, R.U. Darby and his uncle continued digging.
Then all of a sudden the vein of gold ran dry. Desperately they drilled on for a while and dug around in different directions to see if the vein would continue, but in vain. They never found any more gold. Finally they quit.
For a few hundred dollars they sold the equipment to a junk man (the American term for someone who buys, trades, or collects scrap and repairable things). Darby and his uncle returned home by train, despondent and deeply in debt.
The decision to quit was one that the Darbies would regret for the rest of their lives.
Why? As luck would have it, the junk man had been studying gold mining for a number of years and knew who to tap into for expertise. He brought in a gold-mining engineer, who said Darby had simply punched right through the vein of gold. According to the engineer’s calculations, if the junk man went back to where Darby started and were to drill three feet in the opposite direction, he would hit the gold vein again. And that is precisely what the junk man did. It didn’t take long before he hit one of the richest gold mines ever and became tremendously wealthy.
R.U. Darby was a mere three feet away from hitting the mother lode. Can you envisage what he must have felt like? What if this was you, giving up just before you struck it rich?
Ross Perot said: “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” Don’t be the entrepreneur who, like Darby, kicks yourself for quitting too soon. When you feel like giving up, always remember: “You are closer than you think.”