Consensus and intellect do not build businesses

Stephen Newton

By: Stephen Newton

My 16 year old son was wearing a brand new pair of trainers the other day and I asked him where he got them from. It turns out, he bought them himself with the money he had made buying and selling trainers on eBay! In addition to a growing money pot, they were the fruits of his own labour.

Looks like he’d learned the classic ‘buy low, sell high’ model that I was fixated on at the beginning of my journey as an entrepreneur. Although this evolved to a focus on revenue and clients, I wish I had the same kind of business acumen as my son is displaying, at an earlier stage in my life. If I had, I may have avoided some of the pitfalls (and subsequent failure!) of my three early businesses. But I know for certain that I would not be in the position I am today had I not been taught something from each of these endeavours.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned is that consensus does not build a business. It simply drives the lowest common denominator by fuelling the need to please everyone. Sticking to your guns and staying in control of the direction you want to go is vital.

Compromise is sometimes necessary but not at the expense of dulling the shine of your vision. This is not to say that you shouldn’t make space to test new ideas, or challenge the status quo – these were (and still are) important aspects of my own vision. They helped me, and Elixirr, grow and move forward because I was open to always learning. Sustaining passion and purpose while knowing when something is a lost cause is a difficult balance to strike. But it can ultimately determine whether you win or lose at your own game.

As a trained accountant, I am well versed in the mechanics of how a business works and the commercial impact of decisions. Accounting, especially the auditing side, is a conservative world clouded with pessimism because it’s simply about managing risk. In other words, it’s about the things that can go wrong and why certain things can’t happen. I realised I needed to change the mindset I was trained to have and stop being a naysayer if I was to come anywhere close to what I wanted to achieve.

The world has only made progress because of the those who don’t take no for an answer. They see the possibilities, not the problems.

This is where you can question the intellectual world view as a foundation for success. I’ve always been surrounded with intelligent people, experts in many different things – physics, economics, many  well-respected disciplines. A lot of these people gave me extremely logical reasons as to why I shouldn’t be doing what I was doing – reasons that were backed up by evidence that made sense. But evidence relies on facts. And decision-making based on facts alone leaves no room for new discoveries. Imagine if Elon Musk used only hard-proven facts to build his business? Or what if Christopher Columbus only travelled to the periphery of his own map? I also had to take the plunge and sail against the wind. Intuition and optimism are powerful things…

I hope these two lessons are of use to you if you’re starting out, or considering starting out, on a new venture. Experiences matter. My son was armed with a little bit of business knowledge when he started selling trainers online, but he too will make mistakes of course. (Like father, like son!). In the face of a headwind, draw on passion and rediscover your purpose. Then be sure to build your business trusting that these will guide you to the right place.