Shadows aren’t always associated with good things, unless you live in 40 degrees Celsius. Think about living in the shadow of someone else. All sins cast long shadows. Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.
But for this moment, I want to present shadows in a different light and throw in the elements of entrepreneurship and time to the mix.
We all live in the here-and-now. Time is just like that! We may think and make plans for the future and remember the past, but unfortunately the piano falling on your head is distinctly now.
However, the attitude we live in now and the decisions we make are informed by the shadow we choose to live under.
A business’ DNA reflecting the Founder
A business is always founded by people, either the entrepreneur or the entrepreneurial team. And as we know, people always have issues. By implication, many issues of the founding team will be reflected in the company.
It is difficult (if not impossible) to change this DNA. Obviously, the environment changes, the strategies change, and people change over time. But underneath the bonnet, similar to DNA, the company has something determining how it reacts and plays in the environment. It becomes part of the culture, the institutional memory and processes.
In short, a founder’s issues and past become imbedded in the DNA of a start-up and a company!
The entrepreneur’s shadows
In terms of time, there are two shadows which affect the entrepreneur. One is living in the shadow of the past, the other is living in the shadow of the future.
We are all too familiar with living in the shadows of the past, it often plays a pivotal role in our lives.
Take me for example. The first 18 years of my life has had an indelible impact on my life, as it has for so many of us. I grew up in a lower-middle class home where my mother believed there was always room for one more. While this was a wonderful testament to a woman I respect and love, it really did not bode well for us. I can’t even count the number of times a dinner prepared for four ended up being consumed by ten to thirteen people! This invariably resulted in more water to the stew, smaller portions, and praying with your eyes wide open. Thankful we were, but apprehensive we were too as there were no second helpings! So I grew up with a scarcity mentality around food.
On a superficial level, we may find ourselves living in the shadows of the past in business. It is not always negative if you are in a stable environment. But in the fast-changing world we live in, the past is seldom a good predictor for the future. These days, it can be downright dangerous!
Unfortunately, entrepreneurs and new start-ups do not have that much of a past together, so connecting the near-past of a start-up to the future could very well paint a dismal picture.
On a deeper level, many people enter entrepreneurship as a victim of their past. Or just simply as a victim.
Bad habits and a broken worldview due to a broken past are built into the DNA of the business to reflect the founder’s issues, to continue impacting the future of the company.
It’s why I believe it is so important to concentrate as much on the founder as it is to work on the business and the product. It is also why many research papers have shown that founder teams are more successful as a wider worldview is built into the business’ DNA, and hopefully some of the sins of the past are cancelled out between the team members.
So living in the shadow of the future, what does it mean?
Entrepreneurs see a possible future, and then day-to-day, they work to build the business towards achieving that future. It ultimately drives (or should) every decision and action. Entrepreneurs do this by invigorating others with this possible future, and leading them to make it happen.
As an entrepreneur, one simply cannot harbour a victim attitude, or you will be a captive of the past instead of being an author of a new future. A victim approach to life mostly implies an expectation that someone – a person, society, the universe, the government, your boss or whoever – owes you.
Inevitably, victims are not even aware of it or really don’t care, which victimises them even further. And too often, this leaves the victim paralysed in the past as well as other aspects of their lives.
How can you hunt business as an entrepreneur, see and build a new future, when you are paralysed and expect others to intervene?
I am obviously not oblivious to the wrongs of the past. They need to be dealt with, but you as entrepreneur need not be a victim to it. Learn from it, but move on and create a different future.
Dream of a possible future. Take from the past only that which will help to make the desired future a reality. Be mindful of what you, as founder, instil in the DNA of the business. Blaming and innovation does not sit well together.
It’s quite simple, really: Don’t make the sins of the past part of your company’s future. In other words, don’t sacrifice a good future because of a bad past.
It’s just not worth it.