“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” Zen proverb
The big score.
The end-goal that seemingly attracts so many individuals in the pursuit of what they do. Within medtech I come across stories of entrepreneurs who started up innovative companies, built them against the odds, and exited with fabulous returns for themselves and investors.
These become almost the stuff of legend. Folklore if you will. They attract lots of column inches in the various business media, both medtech specialized and other. When I worked in biotech, I found the sector lends itself to this myth building even more. The next cancer blockbuster… It fails to address the attrition in any technology venture and survivorship bias (only the good results get reported; many of the failures or also-rans are ignored).
Many of the people I meet, whether newbie entrepreneurs, corporate execs, senior and seasoned board members, advisers or media seem focused on the big score. The thinking goes, “well, if I can start this company, build it and sell out to xyz mega-corp, or work with such-and-such a company and get abc stock-options, then I’ll get my own big score.” Their big-score being defined as whatever their number is that would allow them to stop doing what they do today.
But therein lies the rub.
When you drill down, the so-called big score really boils down to two things. One which we can control, and one which we can’t (or maybe we can influence it a little).
The first is the work. The true entrepreneurs who I daily have the pleasure to work with aren’t primarily driven by the big score. Sure, it’s there somewhere in the background, but it’s not the key driver. The end up falling in love with the work they do everyday (they don’t always start off like this but often find their reason somewhere along the way).
Whether that work be: developing your plan and strategy; hiring and building your team; working with customers; working with your technical, clinical, regulatory or marketing team members; working with outside suppliers who bring in specialist expertise; negotiating contracts with counter-parties; engaging in the dance with investors (financial or strategic) that you need to help you scale; finding and working with KOLs that will champion your technology driven by their desire to see patient benefits. And of course a whole lot more.
Only by being totally committed to and engaged in this work do you make real progress. By being focused on each task, single-mindedly and just one thing at a time. This becomes the zen of doing* for the entrepreneur.
The second factor is luck. “Pffft!” you say. “Luck? You make you’re own luck in this world.” Maybe so. But there’s no denying things outside our control can influence the outcome – e.g. your technology playing out perfectly in clinical trials, or a design flaw which only becomes apparent in trials; the market moving towards or away from you as you technology develops and reaches approval; or reaching the right KOL who moves the clinician community towards your device AND is motivated primarily by its greater wider adoption for patient benefit (rather than personal gain).
One might argue a good entrepreneur would anticipate these challenges in advance and plan ahead. That’s true. A good entrepreneur will anticipate and plan ahead. But a good entrepreneur also finds a way of dealing with the curve balls. Or as popularized by the golfer Gary Player, “the more I practice the luckier I get.”
Of the entrepreneurs I’ve met who have made the big score there’s one unifying factor which on first glance may seem surprising. They don’t just retire and go off into the sunset. No, they move onto the next project. Whether it’s a new company, advising several, investing, philanthropic activities or any combination. They carry on doing the work because its WHAT THEY LOVE. When you think about it, it’s not surprising at all.
So, sure, have your big score in mind. But, what’s your little score today?
By Raman Minhas
*Thanks to Leo Babauta for his excellent, thought-provoking ideas in zenhabits