How does tolerance play a role in small business?
It might not seem like tolerance is the root for success, but if you dig deeper, you'll find that small businesses struggle without the core concepts of tolerance.
So how does tolerance play a part in something like a successful artwork, or music, or the next product or course you produce? Let's find out in this podcast.
In this episode Sean talks about
Part 1: The Tolerance for Success and Failure
Part 2: The Tolerance to Learn
Part 3: The Tolerance for the Long Haul
In September 2013, Renuka and I were headed to Cape Town, South Africa.
Whenever we leave, we always ask our nieces, Marsha and Keira what they'd like as gifts. Keira was pretty clear about her gift. “Bring me an elephant”, she said emphatically. Now Keira was just four at the time, and an elephant seemed like a pretty plausible gift.
She wasn't taking no for an answer, even when we told her that the elephant might not fit in her house. But then I brought up a point that stopped her cold in her tracks. After she had heard what I had to say, she wasn't keen on the elephant anymore.
So what did I tell her?
I said, the elephant is a big animal and all animals poo. The larger the animal, the greater the volume of poo.
Keira didn't need much convincing
She wanted nothing to do with the elephant or the poo for that matter. And this is the battle we have to deal with every single day. We all want our businesses to grow bigger than ever before. What we don't always think of, is poo.
The bigger the business, the bigger the poo
And in business terms, you could call the poo, tolerance. You need an enormous amount of tolerance to keep the business going. Which is why people struggle so much when they get into a business. They don't see the factor of tolerance needed to keep the business going.
Let's look at the factor of tolerance in three shades, shall we?
—The Tolerance for Success and Failure
—The Tolerance to Learn
—The Tolerance for the Long Haul
Part 1: The Tolerance for Success and Failure
In August 2015, a musical made its debut on Broadway
It wasn't just any old musical. A few months earlier in February of that year, the off-Broadway engagement was totally sold out. And in 2016 itself, it received 16 Tony nominations and won 11.
That musical goes by the name of Hamilton; a hip-hop musical is about the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton and the American Revolution. And the musical's producer, Jeffrey Seller is passionate about the need for tolerance.
“People don't have the tolerance”, says Seller who's seen more than his share of failures. “The tolerance for anxiety, fear, bewilderment and pain.
In the book “Originals” by Adam Grant, there's a list of high profile failure
You're likely to have heard about William Shakespeare's work in plays such as Macbeth, King Lear and Othello. But it's normal when you fail to recognise names of plays such as Timon of Athens or All's Well That Ends Well. Those two in particular rank among the worst of his plays and have been considered to be completely underbaked. But that's not unusual, is it? A writer does bad work and then produces better work as time goes on.
What's interesting about these plays is that he produced them in the same five-year window as some of his best plays. Shakespeare is known for his amazing plays, but most people fail to realise that he turned out a grinding 37 plays and 154 sonnets. His tolerance for getting into the heart of failure and getting out of it, was, as it turns out, consistent with any other successful person.
Hamilton basks in incredible success today, but its producer Jeffrey Seller clearly defines success through the eyes of failure.
Success feels good. Success is in its own way easy. It’s easy on my stomach and in my heart. It is also true that failure; the feelings that failure evokes are so much worse than the positive feelings that success evokes. I’ve heard of tennis players who say, “I never feel as good winning as badly I feel when I’m losing.”
“You can't cherry pick”
We must not cherry-pick because it will never get it right. If I lose money in one show and then say, “Oh, I better not do it in the next,” I’m going to be in big trouble if the next one’s the hit. I’ll give you an example. I did an Opera on Broadway in 2002.
We did La Bohème on Broadway in Italian. It was a beautiful production conceived and directed by the filmmaker Baz Luhrmann. I had persuaded this group of Korean investors who I’ve done some other business with, to invest a whopping million dollars. They lose 900 of the million. I asked them to invest in this little show with puppets called Avenue Q. They passed.
Avenue Q goes on to make over $30 million of profit for all of its investors. They cherry-picked. They used the fear that losing money in La bohème generated to guide their next decision.
Picasso didn't cherry pick
We look at Picasso's greatest paintings but what we don't see is the sheer volume that's almost too well hidden. By the time he died in 1973, Pablo Picasso has done over 1800 paintings, 1200 sculptures, 2800 ceramics and a staggering 12,000 drawings. Only fifteen or sixteen of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings are said to exist, yet in his surviving notebooks alone, we have a staggering 7000 detailed drawings.
It's called elephant poo.
If you want to get the elephant you get the poo as well. And success, the success so many of us crave, is just a tonne of fighting through a mountain range of poo. In reality, success is far less frequent that failure. “The tolerance for anxiety, fear, bewilderment and pain.
But what's really happening when we get into this failure zone?
What's happening is we're rooting out the mistakes. Talent, or success, is just a reduction of errors. Mozart is known for a few great works, but he barrelled through 600 of them before his death. Beethoven was no slouch either, producing over 650 in his lifetime. Mahatma Gandhi tried an endless number of ways to get the British out of India when he finally hit upon the “Salt March” in 1930 that would set the momentum for Indian Independence.
The tolerance for fear is the greatest one them all. But it doesn't stop there. We need the tolerance to learn and learn progressively.
Part 2: The Tolerance to Learn
I know, you're probably laughing at me because this system sounds so ridiculous
And it may or may not be ridiculous. It's hard to measure what you can remember, but after years of trying to speed things up, I realised one important fact. I need to slow down. I need to have a higher tolerance for learning.
So what is a higher tolerance for learning?
In my opinion, it's a method of slowing down, rather than speeding up. When I get a book to read, I rarely ever read the book. I'll read a bit, and then dig in my Moleskine bag for my pen and Moleskine diary (yes, I am a Moleskine nut). And then I'll make notes or mind maps.
Not every book makes the cut, but when I get a good book, like “Originals” by Adam Grant, I'll read the book, listen to the audio version, make notes and then write articles and possibly do a podcast too. So why go through all of this trouble? It's the opposite of the TV dinner.
It's like a chef that lavishes time and effort to get a meal ready for dinner. It allows me to get to the very core of what's being stated in the book. Or at least that's what I think.
My memory is like a sieve, sometimes
I remember going back to listen to an audio book after many years. I knew I'd listened to it because it was on my Audible app. I did remember some of the material, but even so, it was like a brand new book. I understood the book at such a great depth, and it astounded me that I hadn't figured out what the author was saying in my earlier reading.
This level of tolerance for reading is not common because it seems so very trendy to say you read many books. To this day if you go to the About Us page on the Psychotactics website, you'll see how I proudly mention that I read 100 books a year. Well, that's hardly possible now, at this slow pace, is it?
Don't get me wrong; I crave books
Just like someone longing for a great meal, I look at all the books I've missed, and there's a definite sense of regret. Even so, it's important to have a tolerance for slow learning. And with slow learning, it's also important to cross-pollinate your learning (which in turn makes it seem even slower). This cross-pollination means you're reading a series of books that often have little resemblance to each other.
At this moment, I'm reading “The Man Who Knew Infinity” a book about Srinivas Ramanujan (we'll get to know him better in the next section). There's a book by Adam Grant about “Originals”. And a book specifically about the David statue sculpted by Michelangelo. While poring through these books at a snail's pace, I'll watch videos about thermohaline currents and ponder over the information I get about high and low entropy in the universe.
All of this learning takes a mind-boggling amount of time
It's easy to feel you always need to be in a hurry. You still could be voracious in your learning. I listen to podcasts and audio almost all the time, while on the move. I'll read when I can, but reading requires you to be focused on what you're doing. And then there's the writing, endless amounts of writing about what I'm learning.
This is what I'd say is the tolerance for learning
To slow down, not speed up. However it's not necessarily about doing less, but instead, abut going deeper into the information and cross pollinating it in a way that makes you far more creative; far more open to seeing things in a way that others simply can't see.
But why go so far?
So many people take the easiest way possible. They say they have no time to read. If you ask them to listen to audio, they say they can't remember anything. And that's not the point of learning. Education comes in layers. I can't remember a lot of what I learn in audio, but if I don't listen to audio, I will miss out on about 300-450 hours of education in a single year (that's because I go for a walk every day and listen to audio).
The tolerance for learning has to be high. Speed is not the answer.
Speed reading is more like a TV dinner—a quick, yet deeply unsatisfying experience. Slow down and absorb the information and that's what leads you to a greater level of understanding and success.
Tolerance to failure is critical.
Tolerance to learning is also extremely vital.
But we still have one factor of tolerance that's needed: the tolerance for the long haul.
Part 3: The tolerance for the long haul
If you could buy Google for US$1.6 million, would you buy it?
Google in April 2017, was worth $560 billion. But back in 1997, Google was still a dream in CEO, Larry Page's brain. While at Stanford University, he created a search engine called BackRub. He tried to sell that search engine to another search engine company called Excite. But Excite's primary investor made a counter offer of $750,000. And Larry Page thought BackRub was worth a lot more. The short story is that today, 20 years later, Google is the most valuable company in the world.
A story that contrasts completely with what you're likely to run into on the Internet.
About a month ago, an ad on Facebook caught my interest. This person was promising you could get hundreds of clients signing up to an e-mail list, per day. And usually that kind of bombastic language just bores me to pieces, but on this morning, I was playing around with my watercolours, and it seemed like a fun idea to sit through this webinar.
The pitch was predictable
The story was about how he struggled to make any income at all. And the rags to riches story went nothing to several hundred million dollars. And before we know it, this person is hobnobbing with big shots including Sir Richard Branson. So why am I giving you the run down of this webinar? I'll tell you why. It's because the webinar talks about hard work as the enemy. How we all work hard and how it never changes our life. And how this person's seemingly magic system will change everything. What he continues to suggest is that you can get the elephant—without the poo.
And that's the reality we know is untrue
But we're often so sick and tired of being tethered to a job, or even feeling like we should be doing so much better in business, that we take the bait. We reject the tolerance for the long haul. We hope somehow there is a magic pill that will solve our troubles. Larry Page almost took that pill back in 1997. He had his reasons, of course, but it's the long haul that has gotten Google to where it is today.
So why is the tolerance for the long haul so critical for success?
The answer is encapsulated in a single word: drudgery. Let's say you are nuts about coffee. You know the beans, you're over obsessed over the roasting process, and you dream of opening a cafe for coffee-snobs. For the first fifty or hundred days, you're probably running on the aroma of the coffee alone, but then one day you feel like sleeping in. Now imagine your client showing up to the cafe only to find closed doors.
Every business has days of drudgery
You may adore your work, and should, but there are days when you simply don't feel like going to work. And ideally someone should and will step in to help, but the core of the issue is that no matter whether you're Google or that guy selling pipe dream webinars, it's all hard work and there are days of pure drudgery.
Days that you'll get over if you take a break. But if you don't have tolerance for the long run, you'll give up. You'll give up that podcast series you started; you'll give up on the blog posts, you'll give up when hardly anyone turns up to your workshop because you think you've failed.
Our membership site at 5000bc started in 2003
I've personally written 49,945 posts so far. Divide that by the number of years we've been running the site, and that's around 3,500 posts per year. It includes answers to clients, articles in response to questions, etc. With the courses, I've also finished over 50,000 posts. Add the podcasts, the books, all the workshops, etc. and you have a long list of stuff that needs to be done, and which I'm happy doing.
But if you think the work stops, it doesn't
William Shakespeare, Pablo Picasso, Hamilton's producer, Jeffrey Seller, Mahatma Gandhi, Leonardo da Vinci—they all realised that they're in the long game. That if you think you're just going to get into a business and the business will run itself, well, that's like buying into a webinar and paying a small fortune to get a magic pill. A magic pill that for the most part, is unlikely to work because it too will involve work.
Which is why you need to get involved in something you love
I love what I do. I love writing; I love making podcasts. I adore answering thousands of posts in the courses and in 5000bc. I didn't get into this business to simply walk away. I will take my weekends off, and I will take three months off every year. That's my way to get rid of the drudgery factor and come back fresh and rested. But I know that I—and you—we both need a tolerance factor for the long haul.
As Keira learned at the tender age of four, you can have your elephant, but it comes with poo. The bigger the elephant the greater the poo. If you want to build a business get the poo tray out because you're going to need the tolerance for failure, learning and most importantly the long haul.
How do you Get Smart (And Stay Smart)?
Many of us believe that smartness comes from learning the skills in our own field. And yet, that's only partially true. We can never be as smart as we want to be, if we only have tunnel vision. So how do we move beyond? Click here to find out: How to find the time to do all of this learning?
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