“A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing, but its got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp, what’s the use of knowing True North?”

The above quote is one of my favorite lines from the movie Lincoln.  It transcends its literal meaning and is metaphoric for the journey that entrepreneurs embark upon when they start their companies.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post talking about “remembering the trigger” and, while I was writing it, I kept coming back to the thought that the goal every founder has when starting their company is the True North that Abraham Lincoln refers to in the quote.  Whenever I hear the statistics about the overwhelming percentage of small companies that go out of business in their first few years, I always think to myself that an overwhelming majority of those people had to have started with great ideas.  Many of those companies didn’t fail because they had bad ideas; they failed because, even though the founder knew where they were trying to go, they might not have known how to get there.  How fast a person can learn and adapt to the changing landscape is often the difference between success and failure in any field.  This is especially true when starting a business.

I’m not a big fan of learning from mistakes.  A mistake doesn’t necessarily teach you what to do, only what not to do. In a start-up, there is limited time available to learn how to navigate your way through the swamps to get to True North before you run out of money and resources.  When you launch your company you have the least amount of information that you will ever have.  The familiarity you have with your own product, the market, the industry and the customer is at its lowest possible point.  Tomorrow, if you don’t know a little bit more about each of those things than you did the day before, you have done something wrong.  Each thing that you learn provides a little bit more clarity to the overall picture and map that you have of your business plan, which you will in turn use to chart your way forward.  In some ways, learning your way to business growth is like establishing a baseline and observing human behavior.   Each cue that you observe adds another piece to the puzzle.  When it comes to both learning and observing, it’s important to remember that your perception of the situation plays a huge part in determining how to more forward.

I was reminded of the importance that perception plays in decision-making a few months ago while I was attending a seminar hosted by Charlie O’Donnell in Brooklyn, NY.  O’Donnell runs a venture capital firm and I went to hear him talk about personal branding.  While I was waiting for the class to begin, I noticed this diagram drawn on a whiteboard in the room that must have been left over from an earlier class. There was no context for the diagram, since it wasn’t part of his presentation, and there was no heading and no explanation, but for anyone who has started a company the meaning was immediately apparent. The blue line shows the emotional roller coaster that an entrepreneur takes when launching a new company. When the company is started, a founder sees countless opportunities available and sees everything from a very positive light at the beginning, but at some point, they peak and begin to realize that gaining traction is going to be more difficult than they originally thought.  This makes the consequences of starting business seem very real, as the founder’s uniformed optimism turns into a pessimism informed by the challenges the founder has faced.  It is during this part of the process when the founder’s pace of learning becomes incredibly important.  How a founder perceives the situation and their prospects for growth impacts how creative they will be when looking for solutions to new business challenges, learning from what has worked in the past, and charting a new (and informed) way forward to succeed or fail to find the answers.  The faster you learn the right way for your business to deal with each challenge will allow you to be more confident that you have chosen the right path for your business and are now on the path of informed optimism and success.

The impact that perception plays in overcoming business challenges is very similar to the impact that perception has when learning to observe and assess human behavior.  The emotional outlook that you have as an observer can bias your assessments about a person and can lead you to make less-than-accurate assessments about their intentions.  I want to highlight this because the topic of perception was part of the answer we provided to a student who attended our Level I course online this week.  The question was about how to be more accurate classifying people with the clusters of behavior while watching one of our test videos.  One part of my answer was about acknowledging your current emotional state and understanding how you feel impacts how you solve the problem.  When you are overly negative or overly positive, the objectivity of your assessments can be affected, but knowing the science behind the observations and having a process to learn can allow you to be confident that your observations are accurate much sooner in the learning process.

If you would like to see the full answer to how we recommend improving your ability to read behavior after attending one of our courses, you can view the answer here as well as look through the growing forum of questions and answers from students taking our classes online. 

Learning is everything, and I’m a firm believer that those who have the open-mindedness and desire to learn quickly will position themselves to succeed in their fields.  Whether your goal is to open and create a new business or become an expert observer, remember that how positive or negative you are viewing the world at this moment impacts the options that are available to you.