With the current adulation for the business prowess that got Donald Trump elected to the highest office in the land, we perpetuate our tendency to celebrate the success of growing a new business and turning a huge profit. We lionize entrepreneurs and business leaders and, in so doing, miss a key determinant in what makes a person or business a success.
By focusing on the “victory lane” we are misled into believing that success was somehow inevitable for those who won. We lump together those who succeed by choosing a single path and never veer from it and those who are forced to pivot and adapt along the way. In doing so, we obscure a key distinction.
Undoubtedly, these are always fun stories to hear. Who doesn’t like to dream about their own triumph through the success stories of others? However, to learn from success, the lesson comes not by focusing on the outcome, but rather how successful people got there.
In the arc of a career or a business, inevitability of success does not exist. It requires hard work, some luck and the match between demand for what you have and your ability to provide it. Some fortunate people have a path that never wavers and the demand and supply match-up occurs and is sustained. However, for most of us, somewhere along the way we must modify our path and pivot to get there.
Pivoting increases the number of opportunities in the lifetime of a person or business to find the perfect profitable match-up. It’s a skill that increases the likelihood of success.
Interestingly, a person’s ability to pivot can be predicted long before the need to pivot occurs. In a society where we are looking for the next winners, recognition of this trait is essential. Look for two important personal attributes: self-awareness and empathy.
Self-awareness is the ability to look outside of oneself, and see yourself as others see you. You can’t act on new information effectively unless you are able to see its effect on you. Self-awareness is the core to adaptation — unless you understand why you act in a certain way, you cannot act differently.
Empathy is the ability to perceive how your actions affect those around you. It creates a feedback loop, where you measure your actions and subsequent reactions. For example, the concept of understanding your customer and making something your customer wants, relies heavily on this cycle.
The world shaping our careers and businesses is increasingly unpredictable and changeable. The likelihood that any of us will have an unwavering path to entrepreneurial and career success is less and less likely. Winners will be those who adapt and learn from their mistakes. For those who can pivot, chances of success increase dramatically.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, a national community that connects innovators to government agencies. He is host of “What’s Working in Washington” on WFED, a program that highlights business and innovation, and he lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.