The Dualities of Entrepreneurship

I’m writing this post for my Couchsurfing host in Copenhagen. He has been very generous in inviting me to his ‘hyggelig’ home, and with this post, I hope to be able to repay him partially. At the same time, this is a topic I’ve been wanted to explore for a long time now. It will explore the topic of dualities, of holding two thoughts in your head at the same time. I hope this blog helps and inspires.

Confident and Insecure

When I go on a challenging run I put on my shoes, warm clothes and get myself amped with some upbeat music. Without too many preparations I go out and start my run. Every run starts the same, easy at first, more difficult after the first hour has passed. “What did I get myself into“, I sometimes ask myself. Or just as likely, I say “Why am I doing this in the first place?“. I feel secure about my ability to start running, but I’m also insecure about my ability to continue running 3 hours into a marathon.

The same goes for business. I know how to install a WordPress website, I even know how to do it with ServerPilot and Digital Ocean Droplets (#nerd). But I don’t know how to do the perfect optimising for a website, or how to get the e-commerce funnel to start working better. I feel insecure about my ability to decide on what task is most important. And I feel insecure about what the future holds.

But I don’t stop. If I stopped I wouldn’t have run more than 1km in my life. Or if I stopped I wouldn’t have done the Iron Viking run. Whenever I feel insecure, I remind myself of two things. First, that I’ve come a long way already. Second, there is a next step to make. I don’t have all the answers, but inaction will not get me any further. And it’s ok to take a step back sometimes, my running ability sometimes deteriorates, but I always get back on the road.

I can feel both confident and insecure at the same time.

Selling and Being Human

“Hello, this is energy/internet/utility company 666 calling you with an amazing offer…” Who hasn’t had a call like that? It’s irritating, an intrusion on your time, and the chances of you buying something is indistinguishable from 0. At the same time, we do buy things, and we don’t always go for the cheapest option.

The second duality is selling and being human. Via email, phone and in-person, you are always selling. That is the idea I want to ‘sell’ you. If someone asks you what your business is, you tell your story, that isn’t selling, right? Well it is, your story is probably even one of the best ways of selling you or your company. And that friend in the office you told about your collection of TinTin figurines, if he comes back with one from his travels, didn’t you sell him your idea?

I believe that in every interaction you are ‘selling’ something. It might be an idea, it might be a request or it might be a ‘real’ sale you are pitching. There are small differences between incoming and outgoing sales, but they might be smaller than you think. If someone calls you to ask about your products, how is it different from you calling them? In both cases, you are presenting your offering. In both cases, the other party might be interested, or not.

What I think makes outbound selling difficult is that much of it is based on sending. You are projecting your worldview onto someone else. And there is a high likelihood that the other doesn’t share your worldview. When someone calls or emails you, the chances of a shared worldview are much higher. Therefore I think that in every interaction you have to be human, you have to be a person, talking to another person. Why not tell something about yourself, ask the other about their lives, before getting into the sales mode.

I think you’re always a sales human.

Now and Patience

If you know me, even remotely, you might say that I’m not the most patient person in the world. Some may even call me impatient. Because, why wait? Don’t we want to have it all, right now? Instant gratification is what our brains are built for, right? We get a dopamine shot for every time we open Facebook, check email, or scroll through Instagram once more. Blip.

Patience at the same time is what makes the world spin. If Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to end segregation in a day, he would be in despair and without energy after 24 hours. If you want to build a sustainable business, you can’t be done in one day. If you want to run a marathon, you have to train for months.

Our brains have a disposition for the now, the chemicals are happy when we ‘get’ something. At the same time, we are the only species that are any good at planning. We can save for retirement, we limit the cans of Ben&Jerry to once a week, and we sometimes don’t check social media for hours.

I believe that planning is one of our greatest skills and that through habits we can turn planning into actions in the now that have a positive outcome for the long-term. Habits are a way of using the now to take actions that help the ‘future’ you. We are attuned to the now, but that ‘now’ can help us build a great future.

Data and Gut Feeling

If you could be 100% certain, a decision should be very easy to make. Or should you trust your gut feeling, what could all that data even tell you? (insert favourite populist here). Of course, in most situations you have some data, but you don’t know everything for sure. You might have data about a bump in sales from last year when you promoted that discount code, but will it be the same this year? And what about external forces, like rain that will impact your protest or the presence of a crowd on your performance?

Data and gut feelings go hand in hand. In ‘Blink‘, Malcolm Gladwell makes the argument in favour of trusting our gut feelings. The example he uses is of a Greek statue that has passed all the authenticity tests, but it didn’t feel right to one of the board members of the museum. After the museum has bought the statue, it turns out it was a fake. This is a clear case for gut feeling, right?

Gut feeling is based on ‘adaptive unconscious’, which I loosely translate as the culmination of your experiences that send a signal to your brain which is too fast to be reasoned with. Or in other words, it’s based on data, it is years of experience, maybe even solid statistics, but something that gets interpreted without you being conscious of it.

Therefore I feel that your decisions should always be based on a healthy dose of gut feeling that is based on data.

Here is some more from ‘Simply Brilliant‘ by Wiliam C. Taylor. Double Vision, the capacity to act with confidence in terms of what’s always been done, even as they are doubting, questioning, and probing their assumptions. The data sometimes doesn’t exist. Yet without such leaps, companies and people remain stuck in the status quo.

Our great minds, that reside in all of us, have the ability to hold two thoughts at the same time. I believe that we should do that in many cases. And that in many of those cases, the duality between the thoughts is actually a synergy. Because together, they help you make better decisions for a better life.