Whether as part of those posters hanging around offices or pasted at the bottom of our email signature, let’s face it, when you see an inspirational quote, you can’t help but want to read it.
A truly great quote does have a fair bit of power. Not only do the words of history’s most successful men and women give us an insight into their greatness, but the inspirational words of others tend to ignite a bit of passion within us – even if for a fleeting moment.
While some great quotes may appear quite literal, the beauty about these often few short words is that they can mean different things to different people – and can often apply to all different situations in life, whether relationships, athletics, business, and much more.
With that in mind, in this article I take a look at five powerful quotes from five men and women, and give my interpretation of how they can apply to startups.
1. Bruce Lee – Martial artist and film star
“The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus.”
Focus is at the very heart of business success. There are many examples of smart business people with loads of potential who have flitted from concept to concept, falling in love with an idea before getting bored and falling for another one. That’s not the best way to succeed. And I think a big part of why this happens is that the belief in the idea is not quite 100%.
So while some may say that Bruce Lee is telling us to work hard and focus like crazy, when I apply this quote to business I do so to make the point that if the laser-like focus is naturally there, there is a higher chance that an idea has been born that is about to bring something to the world that the world truly needs.
The flipside, however, is that focus cannot necessarily be forced. Focus, real focus, comes only from being passionate about the product or service you are bringing to market. Not just because it is yours – but because you know the market needs it, and you truly believe you are the person to deliver it. So if you find that your focus is not there, it may be that your idea is not quite there yet.
2. Thomas Edison – Inventor and businessman
“I failed my way to success.”
These are words every entrepreneur must keep close to heart, for I believe it is the fear of failure which prevents so many high potentials from taking the plunge and really going for it in the world of business. Not merely the fear of not succeeding, but the fear of what failure can often bring with it, be it financial problems or the worry of what our peers may think of us when we fall flat.
It’s a pretty harsh word, in fact – “failure” – and that is part of the problem. It should be seen as just another obstacle to overcome. There will be setbacks. There will be times that something doesn’t work and you have to find a new way to get over the wall. If we want to call those failures, we can, but the reality is they are part of almost everyone’s journey, so the entrepreneur needs to get used to them – and be tough in the face of them.
As you will likely have heard many times by now, in actual fact successful people will likely fail far more often than others – at least according to the societal definition of failure. That’s because they are the ones that had the guts to go for it in the first place – to put themselves out there and take that risk – and they are also the personalities who stay in the game by picking themselves up as often as is needed.
3. Beryl Markham – Aviator, adventurer and author
“Success breeds confidence.”
These are difficult words to relate to in the early days of building your business when it is all just a hope and a dream and there are no real successes yet to give you that mental lift. And that’s the point of this quote for me – you need to find the strength to stay positive and confident until those successes arrive.
Remember that in the building stage doubts and insecurities about your venture are perfectly natural. You are not yet in the position to have achieved any major successes because the foundation is not yet in place. But what you need to remind yourself is that those doubts and insecurities are not allowed to get so strong that they affect your performance or steer you off your path – or worst of all, lead you to throw in the towel.
I have worked with many startup founders over the years and what I tell them is that perhaps the hardest thing is staying mentally strong in the beginning. Not many people are in fact telling you to “keep at it” and “you can do it”. It’s often a lonely time, and easy to tell yourself that perhaps giving up and doing something else is best.
But of course it is not. And that is all verified the second the first major successes come. When they do, it’s a new way of seeing things and you will indeed suddenly find yourself filled with confidence. What should be evident when those successes finally come is that they are the result of that year or two (or more) of hard work you just put in. That’s how long it took to start getting traction, and you were not spinning your wheels waiting for luck to come your way, but rather laying the foundation.
4. Ayn Rand – Philosopher and writer
“The question isn’t who is going to let me in; it’s who is going to stop me.”
This particular quote cuts straight to the very core of what it is to be a successful entrepreneur. For me this quote is saying that success is not given to you by way of invitation or validation, it is something which you must pursue by yourself, for yourself.
Too often, startup entrepreneurs look to gain their confidence from others, in the form of encouragement or permission to follow a certain direction or make a particular call. This quote serves as a great reminder that in order to succeed you must stop assuming everyone else knows best – and start believing that you have what it takes.
To get ahead in business you need belief, maybe even a bit of bravado – or, dare I say it, a touch of arrogance. No one is going to hand you the keys to the castle of success, so it’s best to stop looking for approval at every turn and get on with the job at hand.
Sure, doubt is natural, but if you’re really going to get things done, you need to be focused, driven and convinced that you are the right person to do it, and you are not going to get to that point if you are looking to get strength from others. Others cannot stop you achieving your goals, nor can they achieve them for you – only you can do either of those things.
5. Sam Walton – Entrepreneur and business leader
“We are all working together. That is the secret.”
This quote echoes a sentiment that is very close to my heart. That is, it is all about the team. Look at the famous names in the business world today: Mark Zuckerberg, Elizabeth Holmes, Elon Musk – to name just a few. They are not alone. Great leaders and successful entrepreneurs become that way due to their ability to surround themselves with, and acknowledge the support of, their team.
Teamwork is really everything, and it is the only way that successful businesses are built. Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking you’re all that matters. Your vision is important, yes, and if you have the laser-like focus Bruce Lee mentions above, your vision will be all that more clear and inspiring. But that does you no good if you don’t have a team to inspire – and to be inspired from – and help you bring it all to life.
That first business idea that any of those famous business minds had was often not much more than a seed. Only when others got involved and started collaborating on both the idea development and the actual building did it start to grow into something of real value. So always approach the concept of team with humility. Yes the team needs a good leader, but the good leader is nothing without his team, and no great company ever gets built without both.