True grit: does it always work to your advantage?

supermario“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never” Winston Churchill

I’ve always been inspired by persistence.  When you fall down, you get back up again.  Yet a fact based argument in the much resp‎ected Harvard Business Review challenges this idea. Cass Business School’s professor Andre Spicer says that there’s in fact a “weak link between grit and performance”, and also that “people who tend to be tenacious are also those who get trapped into losing courses of action.” Spicer has a point. There’s a difference, a big difference, between not giving up and finding new approaches to problems (admirable) and not knowing when you haven’t got a chance of success but continuing to hit your head on a brick wall (dumb).

Churchill gave the speech quoted above in 1941, not to Britain as a whole, but to the boys at his old school.  Not just boys who would be fighting for their country one day perhaps but also those who would be building businesses in times of peace.

It echoes his great speeches to the nation of course and also the spirit of entrepreneurship that is evident in small business and start-ups.

Whenever Justin Cross (from MediaCom’s start up for start ups Blink) introduces us to a tech start up there is a spirit of doggedness that comes across.  The spirit of doing things differently and hoping to change the world.

There are a lot of start-ups. 9 in 10 people in the UK are considering starting up in a business of their own. There’s 80 start ups launching every hour.  At a recent seminar of small and medium enterprises: “The State of the SME nation” a panel of small business owners talked about their reasons for setting up in business for themselves.  Hearing them talk about their jobs sounded like a description of living in SuperMarioLand.  Hazards kept cropping up out of the blue (one owner talked about her surprise in learning that she needed liability insurance of over £5m to sell a few pictures at a market), and also good luck and opportunities mushroomed unexpectedly.  The general spirit was that so far everything had worked out if not as planned certainly better than they’d feared.  For every hazard then at least two business beneficial mushrooms.  Similarly at Red Magazine’s Smart Women Week, where I was interviewed by Cyan Turan last month for a “Grow your business” session, that same spirit of optimism and breathless excitement shone through.

Every business is subject to change. As Antonio Lucio fb CMO recently said: “change is inevitable, growth and success are not”. Growth and success need a plan, need a strategy, and in Vuca times need resilience. (Vuca is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous).

Wherever you work these days, in your own business or in a worldwide corporation, we need this spirit of resilience to progress.  The spirit that allows you to face challenges as if your livelihood depends on it.

As Jim Collins says in “How the mighty fail and why some companies never give in”:

“Never give in.  Be willing to change tactics, but never give up your core purpose.  Be willing to kill failed business ideas… be willing to evolve into an entirely different portfolio of activities… but never give up on the idea of building a great company”.

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