Be decisive, even when others doubt you
Be decisive in the face of doubting voices was the advice from Luke Johnson is his inspiring column in The Sunday Times last weekend. Luke chaired TV station Channel 4, ran Pizza Express and now chairman of Risk Capital Partners.
There will always be doubters
"I have lost count of the number of times in my career I’ve been advised not to do things," says Luke. For example, when he got involved with Pizza Express sceptics warned that "the restaurant trade was awful and the pizzas were a dying fad". Luke goes on to suggest that many entrepreneurs are actually driven by desire to prove wrong "the critics who sit on the side lines and make discouraging comments."
All bold deeds are risky
"All significant steps — taking a job, starting a business, moving abroad, getting married — carry risks," sys Luke in his column. What a great point and one that applies to my own life. I took a risk by leaving P&G to do an MBA at INSEAD, turning down a promotion and taking out a £25,000 loan. But it turned out to play a key role in giving me the skills and confidence to start up a consulting business.
Whilst there are risks in any bold move, Luke suggests that "One’s worst fears are invariably overblown. And most of the worries we fret about are inconsequential in the long run." It is indeed easy to blow out of proportion the downside of a decision and amplify the negative scenarios.
Bias for action
Luke suggests that people who make a mark in the world are those with "a bias for action, and a real sense of urgency". This does not mean ignoring risks or being ill prepared. But it does mean "seizing opportunities — even if those around you counsel against it" and not over-intellectualising decisions. He gives the example of media mogul Richard Desmond, who bought Channel 5 for a knock-down price of £100m "while his many rivals dithered", selling it four years later for £460m.
Luke paints a damning picture of life inside many big companies, suggesting the bold risk taking described above is hard to do. "All manner of large organisations purport to be entrepreneurial. For the most part, this is bogus," he says. "Managers may be paid well, enjoy nice perks, and get to play with big train sets, but most are battling against bureaucracy and office politics."
Take control of your own destiny
So what to do if you are action oriented, feel the need for speed and yet are bogged down by big business bureaucracy? One option is to take control of your own destiny and start your own business, a jump that I made myself 14 years ago, leaving the corporate security of the WPP group to start the brandgym. My learning from having done this? I agree whole heartedly with Luke: "Even if there are hazards and setbacks, life is more fun and fulfilling if you control your own destiny. You learn to rely upon yourself, and have confidence in your decisions."
In conclusion, making a mark in life means being brave enough to take risks in the face of doubting voices. And if you are finding this hard to do in BigCompany PLC, maybe you should consider going solo yourself. As Luke concludes, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”