You we see a million books lining the stores giving you the secrets to success. “10 things all great companies have in common”, “5 things all winners do to succeed”, “7 ways to be the next Steve Jobs.” Unfortunately for you, the advice given is not proof of cause of success. What do I mean? Well, if you take an example from one of these books, let’s say the quality of “perseverance.” If perseverance caused success, you wouldn't know of one failure who persevered but didn't succeed. But you know plenty! Unfortunately, they don’t write stories about the graveyard of failure, it doesn't sell as well.
I'm not saying that perseverance isn't a good quality to have, because it is, I'm saying that we can’t prove it causes success. Often, the traits you read in these success books are context specific, they are applicable to that person at that time. You can’t induce from these specific instances a general rule of thumb. So no, just because Steve jobs was persistent and founded one of the largest and most successful companies in the world, doesn't mean you will to if you just don’t give up. There are so many variables at play – luck, timing, competition, randomness – it becomes almost impossible to determine for sure what factors play a key role in success.
Definitely persevere, innovate, network, iterate, learn from feedback, be bold, set goals, adapt, ask questions, learn and do all of these things; because they are associated with success. But they can’t guarantee it.
What can we be sure of that we need in order to succeed? Survival. In order to thrive, you must first survive. What does this mean? Don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk. As Warren Buffett says, maintain a “margin of safety”. Don’t make a move that can cripple you. Make sure you can live to fight another day. Take risks yes, take aggressive risks even, but ensure that if they don’t come off business still continues. Create cash reserves for a rainy day, create layers of redundancy. Economists will tell you to fully optimise, but if you do and the smallest thing breaks, the whole thing can go under. No, create a margin of safety in all that you do, because the longer you survive, the more chances you have to thrive.
Your turn - do you have any iron clad rules or combinations of rules for business success? Ones that can't be seen in the graveyard of business failure?