The biggest lie about success we all believe.
IMPORTANT: Before we start, if you can answer “yes” to ANY of these questions then this article does not apply to you and I suggest NOT reading it because your competitors probably ARE sleeping under their desks:
- Are you the founder of a Silicon Valley tech startup that you want to build into a market-leading, multi-billion dollar company?
- Are you (and the founders of your top 3 competitors) young, single and living on Red Bull working 7 days a week?
- Do you want to build your company regardless of how the rest of your life goes, even if that means no partner, limited contact with friends, etc?
Hindsight is 20/20 they say — and man is that true. I think when it comes to building a successful business, we’ve all been lied to — primarily by the media who feed us story after story like this:
“19 Year Old Sleeps Under Desk, Builds App — Acquired By Yahoo For $321M”
You read enough of those headlines and if you’re a first-time or want to be an entrepreneur, you would equate hard work, sleeping under your desk and living on Red Bull as the surest path to success.
If it worked for those guys and girls, it should work for you too, right?
No way. Unless you answered “yes” to any of the 3 questions above.
There’s a self-perpetuating myth that the harder you work, the higher your chance of success is. And that’s completely untrue. Ask anyone that’s built a successful business and I bet you they’ll say the same thing. And here’s why:
You can’t outwork a bad strategy, a slowly growing industry or a poor team.
Working hard is NOT the #1 reason companies succeed. Please get that out of your head because if you believe that, you could spend the next 5 years working your ass off on something that goes nowhere.
If I had to rank the reasons companies succeed, working hard might make the top 10 — just. The right market (#1), with a killer team (#2) and a great strategy (#3) that prioritizes execution (#4) with a huge amount of luck (#5) is the “secret” behind every successful business.
Sure, you might equate hard work to #3 — prioritizing execution, but it’s very easy to work hard and get nothing done. By that, I mean working hard on the wrong things, or having an underlying company strategy that’s flawed in some way.
Believe me — I know how that feels. You think you’ve got the right strategy but you look up after 2 years and you’ve been spinning your wheels. Or worse yet, you’ve gone backwards. I’ve been in this situation multiple times and so I write about this from experience, not sitting on the sidelines.
Wasting time feels worse than anything else. And it happens so often it makes my head spin.
When I’m coaching founders on how to accelerate their growth (more info here), I start by asking what their goals are and looking at their strategy.
In 80% of the cases I see 3 commonalities:
- They say “I want to grow faster” with no quantifiable metrics to back up that goal
- They don’t have a strategy — at best, they have a bunch of tactics and talk about what their competitors are doing
- They work hard — they do the long hours and over half of them work 7 days a week, even when they have young families and partners
- This is a great example of the “myth of hard work” in practice. Once we look at their market, their team, their strategy and how they execute, in most cases it’s easy to course correct and start making progress quickly.
As a result, revenue grows much faster and the founder actually spends LESS time working, because they are working on the right things and have a team that prioritizes execution against a great strategy.
If you only take away one thing from this story, remember that you can’t outwork a bad strategy. If you’ve been spinning your wheels but still working your ass off, it might be time to put your head up and ask yourself these questions:
- How big is my market? Is it really growing and can I build this business in this market to achieve my desired outcomes (financial freedom, time freedom, impact and/or legacy)?
- How is my team performing as a unit? Who do I need to train or replace to improve our cohesiveness and unity?
- What is my strategy? Is it focused on solving problems for customers, being reactive to competitors or just doing a bunch of stuff and seeing what sticks?
- Are we aligned as a team and are we good at completing projects on time and on budget in a way that makes our customers happy?
These are no doubt tough questions to ask yourself and even tougher questions to answer. But if you want to grow your business and build something that can run like a well-oiled machine, they should be your primary focus.
Anyway, back to the headline of this story. Your biggest competition isn’t other businesses playing in your market. It’s your ability to shift from a “work hard” mindset to a “work strategically” mindset.
I can without a doubt say that when I made this shift, everything in my business at the time changed. We stopped building products and started solving real problems for our customers. We stopped running ads and started building marketing campaigns. We stopped writing tasks on sticky notes and started to build out a real strategy for the next 18 months.
I hope this story helps you make the transition. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
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