Entrepreneur-ism 4: The Hero and Love of Success

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Everyone loves success, so what is so special of this cohort of entrepreneurs that we can call them Heroes?  The typical use of the term ‘Hero’ is a combination of conqueror, a winner, a daredevil, or a champion.  But the term Hero itself derives from the root ‘ser’ which denotes to serve and to protect.  I use the term Hero in that sense –a person who creates value because of a sense of responsibility. He may feel responsible for his family, society, world, his sense of right and wrong, his profession etc.  The Hero gets no satisfaction if he is unable to fulfill his responsibility.  This sense of responsibility enables the Hero to put together his faculties in such a manner that to most others he seems superhuman.  Yes there are entrepreneurs who become so simply because they felt that their current status was great in all respects but the responsibility element.  Achievement for the Hero is about the fulfillment of their responsibility to something larger than themselves.  And that is a huge driver because it provides the Hero with a motive far beyond himself, and that helps him become larger than life in his own mind.  The Hero’s instinct goes something like this – ‘When the cause is bigger than me, should not the effort also be bigger than myself?’

I call such an entrepreneur the Hero precisely for that reason.  They will take well calculated risks, they will listen to others, but not be overly swayed by them, they will got to extraordinary lengths, they will push the envelope, they can be highly self-critical,  and much more.   Success is more important than themselves as their success is for the world and not just for themselves.

I love mythology, hidden within it are character insights so rich, we would be fools not to benefit from them.  So when Arjun instinctively refused to fight he was simply carrying out the orders of his inner force which asked him – what larger responsibility will you fulfill by killing others who are no different from you?  And then you had Krishna himself telling him, he had to fight because it was his responsibility to do so.  Arjun needed to be convinced of his responsibility – only that would allow the Hero within him to surface, and Krishna understood that better than anyone else on that battlefield. His opponent Duryodhana was no less of a Hero, he had a responsibility to his forefathers and Kingdom-  How could he break-up into parts and give up something that had been put together so painstakingly by his forefathers?  Duryodhana needed no Krishna to convince him of his duty, because his responsibility as the King’s son and heir was clear to him.

Heros may or may not play the game the way the world plays them, and yes they may also break a few laws if they don’t agree with them, and if they can get away with, but they would be largely ethical in their dealings.  But each Hero has a weakness which hides within their strength – the need to succeed will make them a bit impatient, sometimes fall for the wrong partners, and lose their level-headedness, and they are susceptible to making enemies.  For, they are largely straightforward in their dealings.

I once conducted a study on bankruptcy and insolvency, and was surprised to find many Hero archetypes among such entrepreneurs. In almost all cases they stood up to wrong decisions by the buyer or government babu or creditor.  Diplomacy and doublespeak does not come to them as well as it should.  This type of entrepreneur tends to be less likely to plead before the powers that be.  For instance you will be less likely to see our Hero in the Hanuman or Sai baba temple asking the almighty to get his bid passed in exchange for a laddu or coconut.

Do I know any Heros?  Yes.  My favourite Hero is one Mr. Jain, who at the peak of his success was running three profitable SME businesses in Meerut.  But when I met him he was going through the pangs of insolvency.  The Hero in him got him his success, and the Hero in him also brought him to his downfall.  He refused to give in to an extortion-ary bank manager, and when bad times hit, he refused to bow down to the powers that be.  He kept on fighting for what he believed was right, while government babus and bank managers colluded to exploit the small businessman.  But he kept fighting until there was nothing left, and then he fought more until he simply could not any more, finally he dis-appeared as many insolvent businessmen in India have to.  I met him once and asked him why didn’t he just pay up? He simply said, ‘I just could not’!

Mr Jain had no team in that he was a lone warrior. Consequently there was no strong enough force such as a fear of failure that would have tempered his instincts and helped him negotiate through times of difficulty.  So though personally as a Hero he succeeded admirably, his business could not.

I have been fortunate to interact with many successful entrepreneurs who are doubtlessly Heroes, let me describe one instance of a well known personality.  I first saw Nandan Nilekani at a seminar where he was pitching for Aadhaar to a bunch of economists.  In that room of about 30-40 people, most of India’s well-known economists were listening to his talk in rapt attention.  He had done his homework, had his facts on his fingertips, knew most of his audience on a first name basis, was exuding energy and confidence, and was playing with the audience’s minds like an artist plays an instrument.  I recall thinking, “What a pitch, what a class act”!  As you may know economists are not normal people, we are a bunch of highly cynical, stubborn and egoistic minds who are trained to see a problem in everything!  But what we had in that room was a man driven with a purpose so powerful, nothing could withstand that gale.

Take the larger purpose out of this Hero, you would have nothing but an ex-CEO, the same who would easily lose an election in a city he helped create.

We all want to be Heroes, and probably you want to as well.  But would you really give up your comfort or even profitability for the sake of your responsibility?  If not, no problem, you can still be a successful entrepreneur!  But you will not have that energy, focus, discipline, perseverance, ruthlessness and confidence that a Hero gets naturally and spontaneously.

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