In 2010, Mick Ebeling invented eyewear to help famed graffiti artist Tony Quan draw. Unlike other artists, Quan was diagnosed with ALS, leaving every part of his body (except his eyes) paralyzed.
In 2012, Jack Andraka invented an early detection method for pancreatic cancer that was 168 times faster and $26,000 less expensive. Unlike other scientists, Jack was only 15 years old when he made his breakthrough.
In September 2002, Erik Weihenmayer joined one of 150 mountaineers to complete the Seven Summits. Unlike the other 149 climbers, Weihenmayer was blind.
In many ways, your startup is no different. Every entrepreneur faces seemingly insurmountable challenges. Before you even start, the odds are stacked against your survival, let alone success. So what should you do the next time you face a challenge?
Skip the pity party and do this one thing: Commit.
Commit first. Then resolve to figure it out later.
Remember when you were a kid and set foot on the high dive for the first time? As you carefully edged your way to the end of the board and stared down from what felt like the top of a skyscraper, someone down below invariably yelled, “Just jump!’
Startup life is a lot like jumping off the high dive. Sometimes you need to leap before you look.
Mick Ebeling recounted meeting paralyzed graffiti artist Tony Quan during a TED talk. After learning about his situation, he said, “I had no freaking idea how I was going to do it, but I committed to [Tony’s] brother and his father that Tony was going to speak and we were going to figure out a way for him to do his art again,” Ebeling said. So he spent more than a year working on solutions, flying in seven programmers from around the world to figure out a solution.
His answer? The EyeWriter, an open-source, low-cost eye-tracking tool that allows an artist with paralysis to draw using only his eyes.
How do you commit? Remember the Stockdale paradox.
Remember reading about the Stockdale Paradox in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great? As a refresher, the Stockdale paradox is named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, a Navy officer, and POW who was repeatedly tortured in Vietnam for more than eight years.
Collins asked Stockdale how he made it. Stockdale said, “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
Collins then asked, “Who didn’t make it out?” Stockdale replied, “The optimists. They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go… (and so on) then they died of a broken heart.”
The punchline? Be brutally honest about the facts, but never waver in your belief that you will succeed.
At 15, Jake Andraka never doubted he would help make a difference in the fight against pancreatic cancer. He knew the odds were stacked against him. To that point, Andraka received 199 rejection letters before a John Hopkins scientist agreed to give him space to do his lab work. Despite his age and repeated rejection, Andraka never doubted himself or his abilities.
When you commit, make sure to bring along the right people.
If commitment is the first rule, then a close corollary is surrounding yourself with people who have the same winning attitude and belief in the end goal as you.
In Erik Weihenmayer’s autobiography Touch the Top of the World, the blind climber recounts how the elite climbing community did not believe he should climb Mount Everest:
“The greatest doubt…came from (Everest climbing) veterans in the United States. Climber and author Jon Krakauer wrote me a sincere letter attempting to talk me out of my plans. (Saying you would) ‘Subject yourself to horrendous risk, the same horrendous risk all Everest climbers face, and then some.'”
In addition to his own resolve, Weihenmayer relied on his support system to keep naysayers at bay. He says in his book:
“I respected (Krakauer’s) honest attempt to dissuade me. Nonetheless, I held on to the view that I would subject myself to less risk than other Everest climbers. I wasn’t going as a guided client, not knowing the people I’d be sharing a tent with. I had surrounded myself with a good team of friends with whom I had climbed extensively – no paid guides, no superstars, just a bunch of buddies with a shared goal to reach the top and to be a self-contained unit responsible to one another along the way.”
Ebeling sums it up well. “Everything that at once was impossible is now possible,” he said. Computers, mobile phones, cars, planes, even clothes – at one point, they just didn’t exist. No one has the perfect skills to solve any problem. The key is to commit and leap now and focus on looking later.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Anita Newton’s LinkedIn page.