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‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Responses in Situations of Uncertainty

There are situations of uncertainty that cannot be foreseen or predicted. What do leaders do in such situations? How must process leaders behave? Leaders can be senior doctors on a medical staff that is under pressure and dealing with uncertainty, or managers leading their organizations to new business arenas or deals. Both of these operate in situations of uncertainty and they must maintain a ‘poker face’ when in contact with their staff, their employees, their clients or their suppliers and maybe even with their managers.

The expression ‘poker face’ does not imply that they must maintain a frozen, blank expression or portray apathy in the face of situations of uncertainty. It is entirely possible that the senior person’s face and expression will show faith and a desire to succeed. The idea is that the ‘poker face’ of senior executives, or their body language, will convey the proper message for that situation and not necessarily what they actually feel. Obviously, it is better if those executives feel optimistic even in situations of conflict, decrease in income or lack of success. But it is not always possible to feel that way, but yet this is what the entrepreneur, the leader or the senior executive, must convey to the people that look up to them. Controlling body language is not enough. It also requires a unique personality that has the flexibility necessary for handling events characterized by uncertainty. It is that flexibility of mind, behaviour and emotion, that enables, when any new information is received or when new findings that were formerly unknown appear, the change the method or manner of operation within seconds. A CEO, who enters into a confrontation with a client and is already planning the legal battle, must also be prepared to hold a phone conversation with the client at any given moment.

Can we determine normative responses to the question of the behaviour of people or organizations in situations of uncertainty? When analyzing the behaviour of people in situations of uncertainty, must we necessarily perceive turning a blind eye as ‘bad’ behaviour and quick action as ‘good’? Is the display of confidence by a person handling an event that is characterized by total uncertainty right or wrong behaviour?

The answers to these questions are quite complex. Because it is possible to examine them on a time basis, then there will be two answers for almost every question. We will receive the first answer immediately after the uncertainty has emerged, while the second will only be received in retrospect over time – days, weeks, months or even years. But even this answer is not enough. Because if there is an uncertainty regarding whether airplanes or meteors will fall out of the sky, does that mean that every person wishing to ensure their personal safety has to walk with a steel umbrella or helmet every time they leave the house?

Is a person who actively tries to minimize the damages of uncertainty making the right decision? Is a person who has decided to bet on a start-up that appears very promising in the beginning making the right move? In real-time the answer will be quite different than in retrospect. Usually, the tendency is to examine things on a success basis. If the protective measures taken due to the fear of failure or of some problem were effective in overcoming actual events, then the entrepreneur who initiated and took them will reap the applause. But, if the event did not occur and all of the defence systems, although fully operative, only incurred great expense – then no cries of joy will be heard.

Hundreds of millions of Dollars were invested during 1998-1999 in attempt to minimize the expected damages of ‘Bug 2000’ [The ‘Millennium Bug’]. Hundreds of millions of people around the world did not step onto elevators or travel on airplanes during the time between midnight of December 31st 1999 and 00:01 of January 1st 2000 for fear of the devastating effect this bug might have. Millions of people backed-up their computers, their bank accounts and their savings funds. What happened in the end? Nothing. Did it end this way necessarily because all of the decision makers were hysterical and acted to prevent the catastrophe or would nothing have happened whether they did anything or not? What about all of the articles written for the public which provided countless tips on how to minimize the potential damages of the bug? Two to three weeks before the end of the millennium they were extremely popular, and after the date of the millennium had passed they were addressing computer worms, other software bugs, junk mail programs and so forth. The panic, it seems, continued but changed its name. Had those who had prepared towards the bug done the right thing? Had a company who spent thousands of dollars for this purpose acted wisely? Can we today, several years after the beginning of the millennium, or more accurately, after the critical second between December 31st 1999 and January 1st 2000, judge these people who had paid so much money for an allegedly unnecessary prevention plan?

On the same note – are all investors aware of the need to check certain things before investing in a project, and once acknowledging the importance of checking, do they actually check? Do the managers of a company seeking to hire a new employee actually check the authenticity of the details in the candidate’s resume and call the references? Not always. Can there be a situation in which a person claims to own a patent, when actually they still hadn’t received formal approval from the registrar, but the investors are impressed by their abilities and explanations thus far and so they don’t actually check if they are telling the truth? Yes, and this happens much more often than one would expect.

Almost any reasonable person can provide an answer to the question “what is the right behaviour in a specific situation of uncertainty?”, but that does not mean that this person will actually act this way. The number of people having smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in their home is very low. The fact that their house can catch fire at any time or that fires occur in apartments much more frequently than once in a hundred years, does not motivate them to buy this vital equipment. Is this behaviour a form of ‘burying their head in the sand’ like an ostrich or do people just fully trust the fire department? Is this good behaviour, logical behaviour, economical behaviour? Probably not. And yet, most people still behave this way. Apparently even having very good data can still lead to making lousy decisions.

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Working in Situations of Uncertainty and Lack of Control


One of the more interesting topics in the discussion of the dialogue between the emotional world and business entrepreneurship, management and leadership is working in uncertain and unclear conditions. At the same time, there is also the challenging field of working in, or managing, situations we have no control over. There are, of course, people who such situations of uncertainty and no control can paralyze and render them helpless and incapable of doing anything. As opposed to that, there are people who thrive in such situations and are driven to bring out their best.

However, the question remains, can a person (whether a manager, a head of family, an engineer or doctor) always have full control over their personal and professional lives? Does the person always have full and comprehensive information about everything that happens at any given moment at every point that touches on their activities? Of course not. The world we live in changes constantly and the great availability of information floods us with data and turns some people into professional data filters. At the same time, the modern world often brings us a very high level of uncertainty. If in the beginning of 2008 we had told the employees of Lehman Brothers or AIG that the companies they worked for would fall apart towards the end of Q3 they would have been certain that we were joking.

There is almost no place or context that is free of change, free of innovation and that holds complete certainty about everything. In my personal opinion, such a world does not exist. But, there are people who would rather work in an organized, safe workplace, where the hours are steady and the paycheck comes in regularly. They prefer that to a slightly higher (or even a much higher) income that doesn’t offer financial security.

As opposed to this type of person, others enjoy, get excited by, and are even addicted to, the combination of uncertainty and lack of control over situations. For these people (some of whom definitely would meet the criteria for entrepreneurs) – the security of working in a large and organized company is not at all appealing. Their ability to grow and flourish is expressed best in situations of uncertainty and in total lack of control over events and developments, typical of any field of entrepreneurship.

The main question still remaining is how to function in situations of uncertainty. How does the individual person function in uncertainty, how does this person’s family handle such a situation, how does the department at this person’s place of work handle it or even how does the entire organization?

In situations of uncertainty different people act and behave in different ways. Some are at their best (and we will need to elaborate on this), and some function very poorly. This can be manifest as hesitation, lack of self-confidence, changing decisions hastily, making decisions that were not thought through properly or decisions that were over thought. We can assume though that the way people function in situations of uncertainty can also be changed and that practicing, training, or a more comprehensive early preparation, will significantly improve the results that a private person or manager will achieve.

This suggests a very important question regarding the behavioural repertoire of people, organizations, groups or firms, when faced with situations of uncertainty. If such a repertoire does not exist and there is only a single pattern of operation, then most of the real situations will be handled in the same way. However, in a changing reality, it is best to have the ability to present a changing behavioural system – such a system that enables reaction to most real situations as if they were regular and routine, even if they appear suddenly or at a very low frequency. The most tangible example is from the field of medicine. Patients expect to receive the best and most professional care from their doctors even if the diagnosed illness is very rare and or if the required medical procedure is performed very rarely. This means that a doctor’s behavioural repertoire must include the ability to treat any illness as if it were common, well known, and familiar. Functioning in situations of uncertainty or low frequency must be as professional and effective as if they were totally routine events.

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The Management and Organizational “Postponement” Sickness

“Do not put off to tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow”; “We will cross that bridge when we get to it”; “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and rest in the shade”; “We will handle it immediately after New Year” – these sayings and many others characterize an entire behavioural culture. Leaving things to the last minute has no value. A seminar paper written one day before it is due is unlikely to be worth mentioning in the academy’s yearbook as the best seminar paper of the year. A negotiation held with teachers a few hours before the end of the school year cannot exactly be considered fair. Unfortunately, in many cases, possibly too many, that is how things are done. And we are not discussing a local phenomenon, but something that happens almost everywhere around the globe.

The “don’t worry, be happy” virus, the “trust me” germ and the “there are more important things now” bacteria can cause a whole country to suffer from one serious illness – postponement sickness. Instead of doing what is needed at the right time and place and in the right amount, we often do things according to timetables that do not necessarily fit the commitments we have taken upon ourselves or were assigned to us. Sometimes we will first do things that are more urgent but not necessarily more important, and sometimes we will act according to the principle of ‘he who yells loudest’ and not according to ’the first thing that should be done’. In most cases we do not have bad intentions, but the result can be very destructive.

Even in the field of decision making there are many good people who suffer from the malignant disease of inability to reach a decision. Why make the decision now, they ask in wonder, when we can discuss this again in two or three weeks. Whoever had the pleasure of working with government authorities can testify that postponement is one of the cornerstones of their activities. It always seems that any decision (not to mention action) made by a government authority, local authority, government office, public corporation etc. requires a huge allocation of resources to move even the smallest of things.

The postponement sickness in execution and decision making does not afflict only the public sector but exists even in some of the businesses and organizations in the private sector. Only too often things are put off not only to the last minute, but even to the moment after that. The preparations towards a professional exhibition, the opening date of which was known six months earlier, ends a good couple of hours after the arrival of the first visitors and that is also when the flyers and handouts arrive. Postponement sometimes becomes standard procedure. Salary negotiations with teachers are almost always postponed to the last day of summer vacation. Marathon discussions with employees regarding salary increase are held moments before a general strike is declared. Where were these people earlier? Why didn’t they act before the last minute?

Postponement carries a heavy price of mediocrity. You cannot write a serious seminar paper, a process which should take about four months, within 11 hours. You just can’t. Just as you can’t speed up cooking or the tree-growing processes, you cannot speed-up processes that by nature require time. Proper preparation for an exam in engineering is not possible one day before the test. Only a few hours of studying for the SATs are not the same as taking a three or four month class. We will pay the price of mediocrity not only when the grade or the quantitative results arrive, but also in ‘qualitative’ parameters – which are harder to measure but easier to feel. It is called ‘whatever’ and can be seen on people, businesses or organizations that haven’t looked at the calendar recently or haven’t properly read the instructions of the tasks they took upon themselves or were assigned to them. Mediocrity is a result of postponement.

The business world is also afflicted with postponement. Starting with the preparations towards submitting reports or writing an official opinion, through discussions held minutes before making a decision and up to executives arriving at a meeting unprepared and reading materials sent to them in advance at the last minute. Only too often the business world finds itself in situations in which decisions or performances are postponed for no practical reason.

What can we do about postponement? High self-discipline is the basis of facing the tendency to postpone, ours and the people we work with and depend on. Self-discipline is based on an inner need not to cut corners (even when we can), on very high motivation and on the aspiration to achieve and to succeed. But no less important – it is based on the ability to perform actions even if we won’t get applauded for them or alternatively even if no one will punish us if we do them wrong.

Self-discipline has a huge significance when trying to deal with postponement sickness. Why do people arrive at the dentist’s for root canal or filling a cavity only when the pain becomes unbearable? Why don’t they go once every six months or even once a year for the routine check-up as required? The answer, again, is – self-discipline. There is no (immediate) punishment for not going to the dentist’s. On the other hand, the reward is immediate. You can always find something more pleasant and less painful to do. Even the reward for emptying your car ashtray on the road (late at night, when nobody is looking) is much more immediate than the punishment of living in a dirty country in the long run.

Unfortunately, too many factors award postponement with undeserved legitimacy. Instead of condemning postponement and turning it into a bad word, some systems just make it a way of life. The war against postponement should be held in the country institutions, in the local governance or school managements, in boards of directors and by each and every citizen. Self-discipline and willingness to work according to importance and not necessarily according to urgency will lead the social and business activities to other, much better, places. Early planning and management according to goals will also help getting rid of momentary whims that cause some people to prefer the easier present rather than hard work that ensures a better future.

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Self-Discipline and Commercial-Business Success

Self-discipline is a very important factor in the business world in general and in the business entrepreneurship world in particular. In fact, self-discipline is a healthy basis not only for the business world but also for good citizenship, proper parenting and conflict-free neighbouring. It is much easier to leave your garbage near the building dumpsters than inside them. It is much easier to ignore the filth in the building’s lobby than to pick it up and throw it away. It is much easier to ignore a warning sign on the road and to keep driving however we feel like than to consider other drivers.

Self-discipline is a behavioural tool that consists of six elements that complement one another and are expressed at almost every point of strong self-discipline (and are non-existent for people who have no self-discipline):

Postponement of gratification: there are many things that are easier and more pleasant than submitting reports or filling in forms. However, postponement of gratification is considered a central element in the civilized world, as well as in the business world and other worlds. It is worth mentioning that instant gratification is very tantalizing for most people and, naturally, also easier and more pleasant to perform than their main goals, those that actually move them ahead.

Performing actions that do not receive instant encouragement: every person performs important actions (personal, social, civil, business and so forth) every day, many of which they do not receive instant encouragement for. A driver does not get an award every time they halt at a stop light or to let a pedestrian cross the street. Still, they keep doing this just out of self-discipline.

Correct action even in the absence of immediate punishment: following the above paragraph where I discussed actions which do not receive instant encouragement, I would also like to discuss the question of correct action in the absence of immediate punishment. One example for this is the incapability of the authorities to immediately punish tax evasion. With no immediate punishment, the temptation to evade paying taxes is great. In these situations specifically, self-discipline is critical to the success of any person, and more so for long term success.

Focusing on the important things and leaving the insignificant behind: it is very easy to take care of trivial, useless, things that do not promote any activity or purpose. It is very easy to be trapped into nonsense and gossip that have no bearing on the business goal and to waste time in discussing or dealing with them. The ability to focus on what is important, on tasks and goals, is critical to success.

Correct management of long term processes: most processes divide into two: those which require a reaction in the short and immediate term and those that require a long series of activities and in nature are built for long-term work. Self-discipline means knowing how to correctly balance long-term tasks (those that do not yield immediate results or which may require investment of many work hours) and short-term tasks, especially short term tasks that yield immediate success.

Doing the right things even without supervision: as I have mentioned earlier in the book (and will continue to), without self-discipline the entrepreneur’s ability to act will be very low, although this situation may change dramatically if they have an active management or board of directors to whom they must report. As opposed to that, people who have high self-discipline can act without supervision and without oversight of any kind and still do their jobs very well.

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Almost our entire life (as youngsters, adults, employees, businessmen, executives etc.) is paved with events that require proper attention from us. Sometimes our reaction to an event depends on our personal abilities, sometimes it is related to our mood at the time, and sometimes we feel, for some reason, as if we are taken over by dark and unfamiliar forces. They are uncomfortable and unpleasant but they are a fact.

When an event occurs in a situation that is comfortable and pleasant for us, when we feel at home, our normal response repertoire will most probably provide a good result and even the most appropriate one. In such a situation we do not need to think too much and we do not feel pressure. Both sides to the dialogue understand one another, agree and approve that they can operate in full cooperation without damaging one another’s interests.

The problem does not lay in situations in which everyone agrees with us: the bank manager agrees to our request to increase our credit line; the investor agrees to increase his investment in our idea by an additional thirty thousand Euro within two hours; or the operations manager informs us that he can deliver the urgent order immediately. The problems start when there is no agreement between the parties. When there is a heated argument or emotionally charged dialogue. In cases of a harsh exchanging of words, mutual accusations, misunderstanding of instructions or processes. The other party can be anyone: a work partner, a businessperson wishing to purchase products or services for their company, a CFO of a competing organization, the bank manager, your accountant or even your neighbour. Quarrels, conflicts or disagreements can burst out at any time and with anyone. Sometimes it will be with someone we do not meet with very often and sometimes with someone very close to us. Sometimes this may be with a person that does not have much influence and can do little harm and sometimes with a person who’s impact on us can be very bad.

Any person caught into a situation that is problematic or difficult for them typically responds in one of three basic manners: ’run’, ‘attack’ or ‘freeze’. Under such circumstances, the rational, modern and advanced person returns to being the Neanderthal primitive beast and forgets all of their manners and political correctness. Anyone who has ever provided services to a client can tell of an event in which the client ‘lashed-out’ for no apparent reason and poured their wrath on the service representative – a behaviour which seemed without good cause. These outbursts can happen with no warning; sometimes they are preceded by silence: a roaring silence or an indrawn silence. On the surface nothing is visible. No sound can be heard. But inside the rage builds and accumulates until it is impossible to contain it any longer, and then the person attacks, freezes or ‘runs away’. Sometimes one other side causes this without noticing, they are so absorbed in their own things and interests that the interests of the other party simply do not exist for them. Sometimes the collision is structured within the dialogue itself between two different sides that may even be hostile to one another. These are situations in which the parties to the dialogue have different interests and sometimes quite opposite ones. These situations are common, for example, in the insurance field, the banking field, government offices and more. The interests of some will be different to or even opposing those of the business owner’s. Entrepreneurs, shareholders or company owners must thus know how to act in these situations and how to talk to the various role players.

When a person becomes an entrepreneur, their own boss, or other people’s boss as part of their role as CEO or shareholder, they must be prepared for an increase in the number of the friction points, a rise in the number of controversial subjects and an overflow in the number of people they will need to communicate with and to settle differences with. This is exactly where the role of assertiveness begins.

Assertiveness is a central work instrument in the successful management of all relationships and especially valuable to every entrepreneur (whether they have excellent ideas, are a business entrepreneur or an investor in a commercial start-up). A good definition of assertiveness is “decisiveness, confidence and a direct, resolved and firm style of speaking which enables a person to insist on what they need whilst still respecting the values and opinions of others”.  It is the last part of the definition which makes the difference between ‘aggressive’ and ‘assertive’ , the key difference is that the aggressive person will simply demand something from another, the assertive person will be asking for the same thing but will be providing a reason for why they need it. Equally the assertive person will have an understandable reason for refusing a request (demand) made of them.

Thus, being assertive gives the ability to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. In the business world, we are talking about a businessperson’s ability to say “no” or “it is not possible” even in circumstances which are difficult for them. Such as, for example, when a family member wants to join the business but does not have the required capabilities, or when an investor presents an entrepreneur with a request that they cannot accept. Having – and giving – a reason for their decision allows the other party to understand it and helps avoid conflict

Another, equally important, aspect of assertiveness is the ability of a person to ‘stand their own ground’ when dealing with another person and thus to obtain what they need whilst at the same time avoiding hurting the other person. This ability puts the business entrepreneur on a very interesting track, one in which their needs (or those of the business they represent) can be accepted to be at a higher priority than the needs and wishes of other people or organizations.

As I have mentioned before, when there is no conflict of interests agreement is usually quickly reached and really assertiveness is not necessary. However, the more the event becomes complex and the more people, pressures, interests and factors are involved in it, the more difficult it becomes to either to say “no” or to get agreement to what is required.

In many instances the higher ranking the executives a person is facing, then their basis of communication with the other side can become more narrow and their needs less aligned and thus the ability to say “no” or to say what they really need may decrease dramatically.   This really emphases the need for preparation and a clear understanding of the ‘why’.  A case that wonderfully demonstrates the above happened to an entrepreneur in the field of construction who arrived for a meeting at a bank with the branch manager. He thought he had prepared himself properly and memorized his arguments over and over. A minute before the meeting was about to start, he still confidently knew what he was going to demand from the branch manager. But then the door of the meeting room opened and when he was invited in he was faced with the CEO of the bank who had come to hear face-to-face the needs of preferred clients of the bank. After the fact, the man recollected that his verbal ability to present his demands to the general manager of the bank, the most important persona in the bank – had significantly dropped. He realized that although he had   ‘practiced’ all his demands before the meeting with the branch manager he had not given enough attention to the ‘why’s and thus he had little ability to be assertive when he found himself sitting with the most high-ranking executive in the bank.

A similar event occurred a few months ago when the president of a certain commercial company, a respected man with an amazingly distinguished appearance (there is no better way to describe him), found himself in an unusual situation. At a meeting held between the chairman of the employee union and the company’s CEO, the union chairman announced that the employees intend to initiate a strike and paralyze the whole company. A ‘coincidental’ (well-timed) entrance made by the company’s president at this meeting overturned the situation. The President explained without emotion why the company was unable to accept the union demands and what the effect would be on the company. The militant union chairman agreed to postpone the decision whether to strike for three months, during which the sides were able to reach an agreement.

I would expect to find assertiveness in a response to improper behaviour in the business world (and at the same time in the world of entrepreneurship and all other aspects of life). Apparently, it seems that the business world runs according to a politically correct behavioural code, but reality shows that this world is also full of passion and anger and at times is infected by outbursts of verbal violence (not to mention unexpected physical violence).

True, these cases are quite rare, but sometimes a difficult conversation can be held softly, considerately, with plenty of empathy and still be tough and uncompromising. In these cases (and even in more difficult events), assertiveness – meaning giving careful attention to the reasons for saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – is key to reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

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Pressure as a Motivating Factor

It is quite clear that people who react to pressure (in their private and professional lives) by becoming incapable will not be able to fulfil any meaningful role. However, people who react to pressure by taking action can fulfil a wide variety of roles.

Pressure is a result of many different causes, such as: uncertainty or a feeling of losing control over events (as formerly described), too many events occurring over a short period of time, conflicting expectations that different people have from one individual and so forth. Not only are the causes of pressure different, but so also is the way it affects different people. There may definitely be situations in which a person will react to objective pressure in a totally different way to their co-workers. Even in family life there are situations in which one of the spouses is quite stressed by an event that does not at all disturb the other.

Living in the modern world introduces people to various and plentiful sources of stress. Some see the stress as an oppressing factor which does not allow regular and proper work and some are at their best under stress. Some people rush with eyes wide open into stressful situations. Entrepreneurs, and especially entrepreneurs who become businesspeople, must relate to stress as a permanent factor that will always be present in their work life. It must not be perceived as a disturbing or delaying factor. They must accept it as a central and significant part of their work, treat it with respect and know how to live with it in peace.


“It cannot be done” as opposed to “let’s see what needs to be done”. “It won’t work” as opposed to “in order for it to work we need to press on these two buttons twice”. Sound familiar? This is the main difference between pessimism and optimism and between positive thinking and negative thinking. And eventually, between increasing chances of failure and increasing chances of success.

Optimism is the main, most important and most necessary, quality for the initiating process. In order to start the ball rolling every project (whether personal, scholastic, professional, career or enterprising) needs a good measure of optimism and positive thinking. The kind of optimism and positive thinking combined with the proactivity that will not allow the entrepreneur (whoever they are) to sit on the sidelines but pushes them to act.

It is very important for me to emphasize that a person who is optimistic in nature is not necessarily unaware of dangers or willing to overlook them. An optimist is not necessarily a person that is gullible or that will not insure their car or lock up their bicycle because they have convinced themselves that no thief would covet them. An optimist is not blind to danger; they just have a particular way of thinking. The fact that an optimistic person is not necessarily naïve should be clearly understood by any person wishing to enter the world of business or to expand their financial or marketing occupation. There is no contradiction between the fact that the entrepreneur, the one we are discussing now and will continue to discuss throughout the book, must be careful and watch their partners very closely and yet still need to be optimistic and think positively. In other words, on the one hand they must think positively and on the other hand they must be alert and watch for danger. Optimism and cautiousness are not opposing traits, but ones that complete each other.

This is true also for our personal lives. The fact that a family decides to go on vacation or on a trip, does not contradict its need to take a first aid kit or a sewing kit with them in case a hand is cut or a shirt button falls off. The family should think of the pleasure and fun of the trip and at the same time be prepared for any mishap or event that may spoil it.

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What is Failure?

Up until now I have discussed success, its components and the price it bears. But the coin of success has another side, just as important – failure. Failure is not always the opposite of success and it does not always come in its place. Things are much more complex and complicated than that. The way I see it, the most painful failure is a situation where nothing was done, where there was no attempt to do anything and things just went on the way they were. If an entrepreneur or inventor has a great idea and they do not do, or even try to do, something with it – their chances of succeeding are nil. At the same time, the chance of failing are also insignificant. The one who does nothing does not fail; and in many instances people who are afraid of failure just freeze and do not evolve or renew anything in their lives. This is true not only in business. Fear of failure has important consequences on every aspect of life. Whether we are discussing relationships, work or career, many people would rather sit and do nothing – as long as they do not fail. For this reason, for example there will be single men or women that will not approach the opposite sex for fear of rejection. There are also people that in the framework of their business will meet someone who may fit their social network, but they will be too shy to approach that person and exchange business cards. As I see it, this also constitutes a failure.

Dealing bravely with failure means moving on at full steam, going forward. There are people that for whom failure, even the smallest, paralyzes them for a long time. And there are people of a totally different breed. These wait to ambush failure; they know that failure is a part of real life and are aware of the fact that it is inevitable. They just don’t know when it will occur. But sooner or later it does. Then, the question is whether in spite of the failure they will be able to (emotionally and professionally) continue acting, working and functioning. That question, and not whether the failure will bring the whole process to a full stop, is in my opinion the right one. People who have succeeded in life are those who kept on working and functioning even after experiencing failure. Thus, since failure is an inseparable part of life (again, not only in management, business or entrepreneurship), we need to know to handle it well without its causing us give up or become paralyzed. Does the constant falling of a toddler learning to walk discourage them or their parents from trying again? Is the wrong decision made by a worker that leads to the manufacturing of 60 defective units grounds for dismissal? Maybe it ensures that chances of them making those same mistakes again are now reduced to nothing? Failure must be dealt with not only on a personal level but also at the department and even organizational levels.

This reminds me of a very well-known Zen story. I believe many readers are already familiar with it, but it portrays the idea of failure very well.

It tells of two monks, one young and one old, that receive orders from the Father of the monastery to move to a new monastery which is a day’s walk away. On the morning of the next day they pack their meagre belongings and start the long walk. A few moments after departure they meet a beautiful young girl standing on the edge of the river and she asks them for help. Please, she begs, help me cross the deep and turbulent river. The young monk turns his back on the girl, but the old monk bows down, takes the girl on his back and brings her safely to the other bank. Here he sets her down, bows to her and crosses the river back to the young monk awaiting him. Both monks continue on their way which becomes more difficult and steep, but the young monk is upset and cannot settle down. Can it be, he wonders, that this monk who has taught us all of these years to be celibate and to suppress our desires has touched a young beautiful woman and carried her on his back? How could he have done such a thing? At nightfall both monks arrive at the stairs leading to the new monastery. At this point the young monk could contain himself no longer and he asks his older colleague, “How can you, the monk whom I admire so completely, who has taught me not to think of women, how can you touch a women?” The older monk looks at the young monk and responds in a warm, fatherly voice, the voice of especially wise men, “Son, this morning I left a woman at the other side of the river whilst you have been carrying her around all day”.

As a definition, failure is a situation in which a certain action was performed and did not succeed. Sometimes it failed because we were not properly prepared and other times it failed simply because it had no chance of succeeding in the first place. Sometimes the failure is foreseen and sometimes it catches us by surprise. Either way, there was an action and it did not succeed. It failed. A person who is frightened by their failures also has a very slim chance of dealing with their successes. The reason for this is simple. Every success is preceded by a series of failures. If you cannot overcome the failures, you cannot reach success. If the success happens to precede the failure, we call it ‘beginners luck’. But these kinds of shortcuts are very rare.

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Feeling Lucky?

The energies you bring into your life are those that can contribute to your success. These energies are all around you and you just need to gather, accumulate and pack them into yourself in as large amounts as possible. On the way you must filter out and get rid of the disappointments, the failures and the hardships as well as all of the negative energy. The one who actually brings success into the life of an entrepreneur (and to any person, not necessarily a businessperson) is themselves. Not lucky charms, not spells, not a horseshoe nor a rabbit’s-foot and not a four-leaf clover – it is the person who produces the luck from themselves, who extracts it from within.

People who are angry at the world will always blame others for their own failures. People who are disgruntled or negative actually invite their own failure. They have all of the excuses for not succeeding, or for failing, prepared in advance. They can be successful entrepreneurs or businesspeople only when they are promised a bright future and the promise is kept. They function well only on a streak of successes and wins. In situations of crisis, failure, mistake, ruin, error or loss – they can cause a total deterioration of the organization or business.

The only place where you can find success before work, and especially before hard work, is in the dictionary. In day-to-day reality only a few people have succeeded without working hard first, and most of these inherited a huge empire or a large fortune from a rich uncle (or won the lottery). All of the rest have to work. And only after many years of hard work – and many small failures along the way – does success arrive. That is the true power of positive thinking.

Thus I believe that the question whether you are feeling lucky or not is irrelevant. In life in general, and in business life in particular, you cannot rely solely on luck. Instead you must work in a focused, organized and calculated fashion. You must aim to achieve results. The goddess of luck will not shine on a person that has not worked hard – even if that person inherited money from a wealthy uncle or millionaire father. The goddess of luck visits mainly those who work in an organized and efficient manner over time. The prospects these people have for success (and again, in life in general, not just in the field of entrepreneurship) are the highest.

Success is linked to the personal ability of any person, thus the potential of success exists in each and every one of us. Since it has nothing to do with luck or winning a raffle of some sort, the road to success is open to everyone. Some people may need to work harder than others to achieve it, but that is always true. There are students who in order to succeed must go over and over the material and there are students that comprehend it easily and can immediately answer the most difficult questions.

There are businesses in which success comes quick and relatively easily (supposedly) and there are businesses that succeed only after years of exhausting work. Even in personal life there are people who obtain money very easily (inheritance, wealthy family, successful family business), while others sweat for many years and are at their last breath by the time they see success.

By the way, sometimes you cannot predict who will succeed most or do it faster, whether financially or spiritually. Sometimes a person receives a successful factory on a silver platter and takes it to total bankruptcy. On the other hand, sometimes an ambitious person who believes in their vision succeeds against all odds, even if their work is paved with dud attempts, failures and disappointments.

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The Price of Success

Success is perceived by most people as something that can only be enjoyed. When you see a successful person driving a luxury car, traveling the world in first class, or living in a fancy house—the first tendency is to envy their success. However, like every good thing in life, success too has a price and at times it is not an easy one:

Loss of self: This refers to the loss of one’s self for the sake of the whole or for the sake of the new organization the successful person belongs to. This loss is considered a heavy price that many excellent entrepreneurs and businessmen pay for their success. Sometimes it is obvious the minute you meet them, and seemingly there is a huge internal contradiction: if they are so successful, why are they so dissatisfied? The answer probably stems from the fact that they have lost their own inner selves.

Loss of emotional connection: We are discussing the emotional detachment required from a corporation manager, as opposed to the personal connections the entrepreneur had with the people who surrounded them in the past. A simplistic example to help explain this might be that of replacing the company legal adviser. Sometimes the entrepreneur works with a law firm chosen due to personal acquaintance, family relations, or comfortable prices. The involvement of a venture capital fund or a bank may require a level of service that can only be provided by a larger and more professional law firm. Suddenly, the personal and interpersonal connection that the entrepreneur had with the legal adviser is severed. It becomes a strictly business relationship, because now the company’s legal adviser is a huge law firm with dozens of lawyers, each with a different expertise. Decisions are now based on professional considerations more than on personal and emotional connections with the people. Sometimes the severing of emotional connections can contribute to the promotion of the business and the improvement of its success—but it can also decrease the entrepreneur’s satisfaction and lessen their enjoyment from just doing. Quite often the person who succeeds in life loses the emotional connection with things that were important to them, due to time or mental energy limitations.

The weakening of family and social connections: Entrepreneurs invest many, many hours in their business. They spend long hours in the lab or the clinic, trying, taking apart, rebuilding, and going back to the drawing board again and again. In parallel, their private life comes to occupy less and less of their waking hours. They easily remember a business meeting held two weeks before but forget that tomorrow is their wedding anniversary or their partner’s birthday. Quite a few people are reminded that they have children only after they got divorced and had to learn how to spend time with them. The connection with family is very important and must not be neglected; there is no reason for an entrepreneur (male or female) to wait for divorce in order to spend a wonderful weekend with the kids. It is very simple—even the busiest CEO has vacation days.

Bringing work home: Budding entrepreneurs, and businesspeople in general, often find it difficult to separate work from the home. They set up a workstation at home, with a computer and a direct link to their work e-mail account. They are very successful at work but sometimes at the price of working crazy hours from home. They give instructions, answer e-mails, and return phone calls while their home life breathes and operates—without them.

Losing trust in people: Sometimes it seems that once a person becomes successful they becomes suspicious and lose the trust they used to have in people. This also includes people that were very close to them or who are supposed to make things easier for them or to help overcome obstacles that they are faced with. Trust is very important in the business world (up to a point, of course), thus losing trust in people can be devastating.

Losing the simple things in life: Time to think, a stroll on the beach with your significant other, drinking coffee with friends on a free morning—all of these simple and good things are lost due to lack of time or mental energies, or due to being physically away from home. But even when there is enough time and energy, we don’t always remember to utilize them properly for positive needs.

Living with fear of failure: Everyone has a fear of failure. However, the higher we climb, the more painful the failure seems to us. I didn’t come up with this line, but I use it all the time. The bolder the step the entrepreneur makes, the greater the risk of falling. Every time a person (and not necessarily an entrepreneur) changes things or does them differently, the chances of making mistakes are greater. But, this is the only way to truly grow.

Blinding ambition: Sometimes our ambitions blind us. We are so engrossed in our ambition to achieve the goal that we forget ourselves. The materialistic makes the emotional disappear, we see but do not notice, and we hear but do not really listen. Unrestrained ambition can cause emotional blindness, and we stop seeing the small pleasures paving the road to results and—at times—life itself.

Does the shark, while constantly circling the coral reef, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, or is it just looking for the next strike (i.e., the fish it will eat for lunch) and protecting its territory? Is it doing both? Is it performing additional actions that we have yet to comprehend?

Every type of success has a different definition. Every person will define their own personal success differently. Thus, every person needs to find their own inner balance and set guidelines and limitations. It is worthwhile and possible to predetermine what would be enough for me, when I can say “I won” and achieved the success I aimed for, and now I can let go or move to the next, totally different, goal. For example, one could exchange the business goal achieved with a social or humane goal that is no less satisfying emotionally. Everyone defines their personal success differently and even using different time concepts.

One of mankind’s biggest secrets, particularly for successful people, is how to find the ability to break the circle of force and how to know when to quit and to enjoy life. It is not the banal question of whether I have reached self-fulfillment but rather the question of whether changing direction, or finding another direction, would fulfill me even more. Often enough it is the little things, for example, contributing to the community by volunteering for two hours a week at a school that desperately needs a math teacher. Two hours a week that will contribute to society, undoubtedly, no less than financial success.

Here is the place to tell you the very well-known story about the old Jew’s lucky socks. A wealthy Jew died and left two letters—one for reading before his funeral and the other for reading after the seven days of mourning (customary in Judaism). His sons opened the first letter, and it said that the old man left his children all of his possessions on one condition: he had a pair of socks, his lucky socks, which he had worn every time he signed an important deal. His last wish was to be buried wearing his beloved socks. The children approached the burial company with his wish but were refused. According to Jewish custom, a man must be buried only in a shroud. They explained, threatened, pleaded, and offered bribes but to no avail. The man was buried according to the correct Jewish custom, wrapped in a shroud and without the socks. He passed on to the next life completely naked, with only a simple white cloth separating him from the earth. The mourning sons returned home, and at the end of the seven days opened the second letter. It read: “Now you understand that you cannot take even a used pair of socks with you to the next life. So I hope you will do as I did and enjoy the money while you are still alive.” Thus he wrote, and only at the end of the letter did he say, that in spite of their failure to grant him his last wish, he left them all of his possessions.

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What Is Success?

We work hard and naturally wish to succeed. But what is success? What is the meaning of succeeding at work? How is success expressed—not only in the local business world but also, and especially, in the global business world? What is the meaning of succeeding at work and also being very successful in family life?

The definition of personal success has great importance. A manager of one of the largest corporations in Israel was once asked, “When do you have enough?” His immediate answer was “never.” In other words, nothing can ever fill the huge void inside us. This void is a horrible tyrant that keeps demanding more and more. In fact, the more we succeed, the more the tyrant accumulates power and force that are impossible to restrain. The results: constant restlessness, anxiety about losing control or power, anger and frustration, and being totally cut off from the ability to be happy.

It is not a mere coincidence that the most successful people in the business world, and in other worlds, turn to gurus, coaches, mediums, and various alternative beliefs (religious or secular). Sometimes it will be a very well-known religious figure who has excellent observation skills or another type of guru who has amazed others with their prediction skills; sometimes these successful people will use the help of astrologists or palm readers to “tell the future.” This is one of the ways they deal with fear and lack of control. The fear only grows with the success. But all of these are external solutions, and the true power and strength are actually within, deep within. However, the connection with their inner self has long been neglected along the constant race to success, which was never clearly defined, and thus will never suffice.

Every personal success must have some criteria and some definition. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, so it will be more challenging to achieve success. And secondly, so that if one of the criteria fails, the person will not classify themselves as a failure because they still have another channel in which to succeed. In fact, the first reason deals with setting a challenge and wanting to face it, while the other reason helps the person deliver themselves from crisis situations relatively easily and without breaking. Thus, a person must improve their ability to challenge themselves so that things will not become repetitive and boring. Nevertheless, the person must also develop additional fields of occupation or interest that will assist them in overcoming failure so that in parallel to failure in one field they will have successes in other fields, in other content worlds. A person who defines themselves in a single dimension may one day see themselves as a total failure because they have not succeeded in that specific field. However, if the same person defines themselves in a number of fields, other successes can compensate for failure.

Another question is how to measure success. Is success measured in financial terms? If yes, is winning ten thousand dollars in the lottery considered a success? Is investing three dollars in buying a lottery ticket that didn’t win considered a failure? It is clear that these are very primitive and simplistic indexes. Unfortunately they have managed, and unjustifiably so, to become rooted in modern society. Why is the success of a soccer team expressed by more “hits” on its website than the success of a scientific conference? And while we are discussing this, when was the last time a president of a country called the head of a scientific delegation and thanked them for the honor the delegation has brought to the country? As opposed to that, the owner of a team winning a basketball championship is almost certain that a senior political person will call to thank them for the victory and the honor their players are bringing to the nation. Does the lack of publicity on the Internet point to lack of successes in science? Or does it lessen the importance of these successes? Success then must be measured in a different way than that which we are used to.