I am just returning from FoodBytes Chicago. I wrote this article after the San Francisco event but I feel exactly the same and feel the message is just as relevant.
In theory, my participation as a mentor at FoodBytes is about paying it forward. But time after time it turns out that I receive far more than I give, and this event was no different. It kindled new friendships, reinvigorated my passion, provided new insights and offered better clarity. The latter two are what I’d like to share in this article.
In most cases, a brand, product, and company are tethered to a founder’s sense of self. At an event like FoodBytes, that could make you feel a bit vulnerable. For two days, you are sharing with mentors, judges, peers, the inner guts of your brand. You get honest, tough-love feedback and if that rope binding brand to self is too short or too tight it can feel very personal.
As I witnessed the exchange of feedback over the two days, a thought crystallized in my brain. Every entrepreneur sits upon a teeter-totter. The fulcrum of that teeter-totter is adaptability. On one side of the fulcrum is a founder’s deep conviction in what they are doing. On the other, is their ability to be malleable. Put a 200 lb. adult on one side and a 6th grader on the other and you’ll be in trouble. Yet, I see it all the time.
If that beefy adult is on the side of deep conviction, you’re stuck in the sand and in your ways. You’re not open to input, you don’t adapt, and in most cases, sooner or later, you will fail. An entrepreneur’s ability to adapt is one of the key indicators of success.
If that stocky dude is sitting on the other side of the fulcrum, plopped on the malleability seat, you’re sitting in a puddle, wet, weak, and limp. You change course with every suggestion, you don’t display confidence in yourself, your business or your team. That too is a killer.
Why I like the analogy of a teeter-totter is because this is not about striking the perfect balance. If you do that on a teeter-totter you just sit there, nothing happens. It’s pretty boring. Rather, the fun is going back and forth, and as a founder, that is where the magic lies.
You need to go to whichever side of the fulcrum that serves your business best at that moment. There are times when you need to dig your heels in the sand. When you need that deep conviction to push off and launch forward.
Similarly, there are moments when that deep conviction does not serve you well. Moments when you are better off to let go, to bend and be malleable. It doesn’t mean that you sit in a puddle wet, weak and limp. It does, however, require you to soften, to risk getting a little wet, to be open and adaptable.
No one but you can determine which side of the teeter-totter you should be on and when. That takes insight, confidence, and a bit of wisdom. I share this advice with my kids who are all in their ’20s. Have a strong point of view, a deep conviction, just hold it loosely. Believe what you believe fully but, be on the lookout for indicators that those beliefs may be misplaced. When enough of them appear, push that teeter-totter over to the other side and adapt.