August 25, 2011
The Limits of Perseverance
My Dad has a great saying, which is that
It’s ok to chip away at a brick wall, but not if you’re using a toothpick
Entrepreneurs are famous for persevering in the face of adversity, a trait more commonly known as stubbornness. And generally, that’s a good thing. Breakthrough ideas aren’t easy to come by, nor is leading the market. If those things were common, they wouldn’t be breakthrough.
But perseverance doesn’t go anywhere without amassing the proper resources to do the job at hand. Just as you’d never chip away at a brick wall with a toothpick, you’d never willingly go up against a fierce competitor without a great product or sales effort, or you’d never hire an entry level person to do the job of an executive.
The key word here is “willingly,” and I think the business lesson you can derive from this great saying is that while you can easily identify the resources you’re WILLING to put against a particular problem, it’s much harder to correctly estimate the size of the problem, or the resources REQUIRED to get the job done well. And even harder than that is recognizing when the resources you’re putting against a particular problem are INSUFFICIENT to get the job done.
The ancillary problem, once you’ve determined that you’re bailing out a cruise ship with a thimble (another colorful metaphor for the same issue), is to figure out whether the right next action is to beef up the resources, redefine the problem, or abandon ship altogether. That can be an agonizing call to make, and maybe not a clear-cut one either, but at least it advances the cause in a more productive way.
In my mind, being able to slog your way through a problem like this is one of the many hallmarks of a great entrepreneurial leader.