One of the things I’ve learned over my years as a business mentor and investor is that life isn’t fair when it comes to succeeding in business. You may think that passion and hard work are all you need, but I believe we all have unique strengths, and you need to recognize yours, and capitalize on them above all else, in order to get the advantage you need to win in business.
In this context, I’m convinced that most of you already have, or can acquire, what it takes to succeed in business. I see a good discussion of the relevant strengths and issues in a new book, “The Unfair Advantage,” by Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba. These authors speak from their own wealth of experience in creating and growing technology startups, marketing, and fundraising.
Here are the key elements of the strengths framework they have developed, with my own insights and experience added for your consideration:
Money: the capital you have, or can easily raise. While it is indeed honorable and impressive to run your business on a shoestring, there is no argument that having access to more money, or relevant assets, is a strength you should take advantage of. It can expedite growth, acquire competitors, cushion mistakes, and lengthen your runway.
In the business world, your ability to raise money is often paramount to your success. In that environment, you need to look broadly and work effectively on all the available sources of capital, including friends and family, angel investors, and strategic partners.
Intelligence and insight: book and street smarts. Book smarts represent your current depth of understanding of technology and business concepts. The more you have, the greater your potential. Street smarts are largely about people skills, which require emotional insights. Use friends and mentors with extensive experience to gauge both.
In my experience, emotional intelligence (EI) is a better predictor of business success than IQ. EI rates a person's ability to recognize emotions, to understand their effect, and to use that information to guide your next move. Fortunately, you can develop this skill.
Location and luck: right place at the right time. I’m a proponent of the old adage that you make your own luck in business. If you need venture capital, maybe you need to spend more time in Silicon Valley or Boston. If you like your current location, tackle an opportunity that is big there, rather than trying to solve a problem elsewhere in the world.
I always recommend to every business professional that they have a goal, and then be willing to maneuver. This is called the serendipity mindset. What seems like the wrong place or a chance meeting might be the start of an important partnership or opportunity.
Education and expertise: formal and self-learning. Don’t believe the myth that a formal education is not an advantage – it teaches you how to learn effectively. Not many of us are self-learners by default, and experience and failures take a long time. The key is to keep learning, from mentors, books, and online. Focus on business as an expertise.
In any career, an advanced degree, such as an MBA or PhD, will at least give you entrée into more opportunities. From that point forward, results and creativity are the drivers. In my view, going back to school midway in your career will likely make you a better leader.
Status: network, connections, and personal brand. To prepare you to build outer status advantages, you need to develop and demonstrate first an inner status advantage of confidence and self-esteem. Motivation and recognition are usually tied to increasing our status, and people around you will unconsciously look for and react to your status.
Personal branding is how we market ourselves to others, and is very important in this Internet age. The days are gone when you could hide behind the company brand. I recommend that you get more visible at industry conferences and on social media.
After reviewing these strengths and recommendations, you may find that you already have what it takes to succeed, but haven’t been using it effectively. Now is the time to assess your own position, get input from constituents and mentors, and focus on improving your position where you can. Only then can you enjoy the advantages you deserve, and have more fun as well.
*** First published on Inc.com on 6/15/2022 ***