Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Finding The Next Billion Dollar Idea

Ask any successful business person for advice and you’ll undoubtedly hear some of these nuggets go by: start with why, create a purple cow, don’t stop until you’re done, eat that frog. 

All sensible advice, especially if you’re French. But not enough to guarantee success. 

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 3 out of 10 businesses go belly up within two years. Half fail within five years. And seven will snuff it a decade after starting.

Since financial ruin doesn’t happen overnight, it’s safe to assume the entrepreneurs from this data sample saw disaster coming, and did everything they could to prevent it from happening.

That emergency protocol no doubt included following business advice from the best people in the industry. The same people who’ve made millions by telling people to find purple cows, eat frogs and put wings on pigs.

Which means that the efficacy of this advice is iffy. After all, nothing seems to prevent most entrepreneurs from burying their business within ten years.

So why are these ineffective entrepreneurial slogans so popular?

Because the idea of a recipe for success is comforting. We like to feel that actions have fair consequences and that success comes from the right mix of hard work and wisdom.

While wisdom and hard work will undoubtedly make your business run better, it won’t inoculate your organisation against bad luck.

And that is ultimately what decides the fate of your venture. Luck.

Unless, of course, you have a higher starter capital than a small country has in yearly revenue. That way you can easily make it past the 10-year-mark without turning a profit, similar to Uber.

You could argue that people whose businesses fail aren’t properly executing the success formulas, aren’t paying attention to the market, or are just plain incompetent.

But that still doesn’t get around the problem that any ‘success formula’ you derive from a complex system, such as an organisation functioning in a world economy, means bupkes.

Let me explain using a more plain complex system in the shape of a billiard table.

If you input all the necessary data into a computer—the weight and amount of the balls, the resistance of the table, the power of the cue that strikes the ball, and so on—the computer can easily predict what would happen after the first impact.

But once the other balls start rolling and we get to the second impact, it gets exponentially more difficult. Yet possible.

Once we get to the 56th impact, however, it gets impossible. According to physicist Micheal Berry, you can’t get an accurate prediction at that stage without taking into consideration every particle in the universe because each particle exerts a small but meaningful effect on the outcome.

So to predict a billiard game we need to know the location of an electron that’s ten billion light-years away. If it’s that difficult to foresee what happens to a bunch of balls on a large dining table, the future of a business must be impossible to predict.

So don’t take these recipes for success so seriously. It’s not worth the stress.

Besides, if you really want to get rich quickly, you can always just quit your job and become a handsome rich billionaire.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach