Adaptability – Why some entrepreneurs struggle while others fly by @WeAreMarsBook

by Cheryl Bezuidenhout | Featured Contributor  

Whether you are a sole proprietor or a larger company with complex layers of responsibility, adaptability is so important to your survival. It is a keystone of your enterprise. Being able to pivot at a moment’s notice is what determines your success. But how does one build adaptability into their business plans? Where do you start being adaptable? And, why is it so important to be adaptable?

To create an agile business takes flexibility. That flexibility applies to daily decisions, long term goals or core strategies. Adaptability starts with flexibility. Flexibility is about taking a gauge of a situation and looking for opportunities to exploit. It is about accepting and exploring elements of risk. The risks present challenges and it’s up to you, as an entrepreneur, to get comfortable with how to handle risk. Without it, there are no growth opportunities. Without risk, there is no room to make mistakes, and no possibility of learning something that could leapfrog you to the next level in your business.

This is true of any stage of enterprise development – whether your business is two hours old, two years old, or twenty years old. The risks and the flexibility need to remain an integral part of what you do to grow and maintain your business. If you lose flexibility, it’s because you’ve taken your eye off the potential risks and opportunities and are coasting. It’s very difficult to shake off the inertia of a stagnant, safe position. If you try to keep doing the same thing you’ve always done, finding ways to avoid risk, your business approach is stagnant.

This brings me to my next point about making mistakes and how GOOD they are for you! Yes! I said GOOD. It’s true, mistakes really do help entrepreneurs develop, grow and innovate. Without mistakes, there would be no lightbulbs, no cars, nor a global movement to help save the planet from greenhouse gasses. Some mistakes are devastating and are massive setbacks. Take what has happened over at Volkswagen, for example. A corporate culture of cover-ups and a misguided sense that they could get away with an epic lie and cover-up, has led to an immense emissions scandal. VW’s deception has cost the company billions, led to criminal proceedings against senior management who were complicit, and set them back heavily. But they have learned one very important lesson from it all, you can’t cheat your way to the top. And part of that is knowing you have to own your mistakes, no matter how big you are.

So, my advice is, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’ve made plenty of my own as I’ve reinvented my career over the past twenty five years. Mistakes are important markers that tell us when we are not on the right track. They are not signs telling us to give up, or turn back, but rather to change tack. Pick a different approach, try a path that is unconventional, unused – higher risk – but keep moving forward.

Refusing to see the value in your mistakes is all about ego. Being stubborn and proud will only lead to failures that could shut you down for good. One of the most important steps to make in business is to admit when things just aren’t working. Ditch the ego, do a damage assessment and determine what you can do to fix things. When you embrace your mistakes and the setbacks they cause, you develop another key trait of successful entrepreneurs – resilience.

Sir Richard Branson is a great example of a successful entrepreneur. One of his key personality traits is an indomitable spirit that comes from a deep core of resilience. His setbacks have been numerous and he has risked much to be where he is, but he has done it all with a tough spirit. Toughness is not taught. It is built. It is layer upon layer of bitter disappointment and failure. The hard shell of resilience you need to pick yourself up every time you stumble is a process. But it’s worth every ounce of your suffering.

Resilience gets you through the dark and dry times too. Business cycles are what they are. Clients don’t pay on time. Economies slump. Business dries up over night, and it is no fault of your own when you find yourself surrounded by debts and obligations you can’t meet, and work is at a standstill. It’s times like these that you need to get creative. That can mean any number of things to you. It could mean getting a job to see you through the lean times. It could mean divesting of business capital assets. It could mean you learn how to knit so you can sell mittens, caps and sweaters on Etsy. Whatever your solution is, it’s your creativity at work, solving problems for you. Let creativity flow unrestricted as you come up with ideas. Try not to put pressure on it to perform miracles. Creativity can whither suddenly when too great a burden of responsibility is placed on it. Be willing to take huge risks in the name of creativity if have found a path that is truly compelling. I was late to follow my own dreams. After spending too many years doing what I thought was expected of me, I turned to writing. I wish I’d spent all those years writing, instead of doing graphic design! I arrived at a crossroads one day and chose the creative path that called out to me. It’s been scary and full of risks, but it’s also been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and I have no regrets about becoming a writer.

Creativity is the cap of achievement you get to wear when you choose to be an entrepreneur. You are seen as brave, independent, smart and successful. Begin to believe that you are all those things. If you are still struggling to find your way, think again about how you can apply some of what I’ve mentioned, if not all.

  1. Develop some flexibility.
  2. Learn from your mistakes.
  3. Build resilience.
  4. Find creative ways to make your experience as an entrepreneur a true reflection of your ability to adapt and succeed.

When you can say you’ve got all of these points down, you can say you’ve become adaptable, and if you are adaptable, you have a much better shot at being successful.

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