What do Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sophia Amoruso and Julian Assange have in common? As Steve Jobs would have it, they are the crazy ones, the rebels, and the round pegs that cannot be made to fit in square holes. They are the misfits who have built world-class empires that will be etched in the history books. But, how did they thrive in a world where those who go against the grain do not always have a living chance of bringing their ideas to fruition and what can you learn from these troublemakers?
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1. Become an Insane Workaholic
At a time when there are millions of graduates in the world and more are being churned out each year, you would think that talent and academic achievement alone would make you a successful startup entrepreneur. Yet some of the most iconic, mind-blowingly successful startup entrepreneurs dropped out of school to work on their world-changing ideas. You do not have to drop out of school to prove a point; but what you certainly must do is develop an insane work ethic, take pride in being a workaholic if you are going to start and build anything successful. What sets the talented and lucky ones apart from the ones who truly make a difference is the zeal to get up earlier, stay in later and get more done than anyone else. Steve Jobs, Julian Assange, Jeff Bezzos are all crazy types who often worked for long hours with little sleep and minimal food while building their respective companies.
2. Develop a Sense of Incredible Resilience
Entrepreneurs who laugh in the face of rigid corporate and business structures risk one thing —spectacular, epic failure. As a misfit, you are perpetually going against the grain, challenging the status quo, standing up to the top dogs and doing things differently. The risk in doing these things is that you might fail, in a public and enormous way; that is why many reasonable human beings choose to just go with the flow instead of challenging the structures. But those who truly want to make a difference through their business ventures are ready to take the risk, to fight the norm, and even worse to face failure in the face and still have the stamina to bounce back. As a rebellious startup founder who wants to make a real difference, you will face many actual and potential failures but you need to be ridiculously resilient to keep at it.
3. Never Rest on Your Laurels and Stay Foolish
The popular Steve Jobs quote, ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ was a reiteration of the 1974 edition of The Whole Earth catalog, yet the quote still packs a punch four decades after its publication and four years after Jobs’ demise. As a maverick, misfit entrepreneur you certainly see things differently from how most people do and it can be easy for you to lay easy, pat yourself on the back and feel superior. This is a recipe for inertia and for never getting anything great done.
The most successful startup founders realize that they need to stay ‘hungry’ and this has nothing to do with losing weight or dieting. Staying ‘hungry’ means maintaining the desire to do better, realizing that what seems awesome right now, will be made obsolete by something else that is better, bigger, glossier and smarter. Staying ‘foolish’ means being open to new possibilities, new information and more importantly, throwing out the notion of ‘impossibility’ —when nothing is impossible, then you will have the drive to consistently accomplish revolutionary feats.
Other than Steve Jobs, Richard Branson is a perfect example of a rebellious maverick who is so ‘foolish’ to think that in a few years he will take people to tour space affordably. You would think his multi-billion Virgin Airlines is enough to make Branson retire in peace; but his ‘hunger’ for more will not stop him from going beyond the skies and into space.
4. Master the Art of Personal Magnetism
The catch phrase ‘personal magnetism,’ derived from Olivia Fox Cabane’s, The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, simply means ‘charisma’ in regular-people speak. No, you do not need to be physically gorgeous to transform your ingenious ideas and quirky personality into a thriving startup. However, to get head, it is ultimately important to learn the art and science of influencing people —that is what charisma is all about.
Take Julian Assange, the intense, immensely bright Aussie programmer who had the guts to blow the whistle on what is on any measure, the strongest country in the world, the US of A. He obviously did not do his hacking work or build WikiLeaks alone —he had to convince people to come in and work on his team to create a more transparent, just and freer world. You would need to be extremely charismatic to persuade mere mortals to join you in taking on the ubiquitous and all-powerful US government. According to those who worked closely with him before he went into exile, Assange has this ability to create an environment where people want to do things for him. Who does not need this kind of support, especially when you are starting a disruptive company that could potentially cost your life?
To develop a sense of personal magnetism, Cabane recommends that you first learn to give people the attention they need, second cultivate behaviors of power i.e. let go of your shyness, of curling up at the end of the room during a meeting, of being invisible, of not speaking out. Behaviors of power have nothing to do with actual power, but through body language, these behaviors help you to demonstrate your confidence and leadership abilities. Third, develop behaviors of warmth that will make you likeable; these include authenticity, listening to others, and empathy.
5. Build Your Network Voraciously
Right now in this moment, how would you describe your network? It can be either closed or open. The openness or closed-ness of your personal networks is equally and directly proportional to your level of success whether you are starting a company or looking to climb the career ladder. People with open networks, i.e. expansive networks where you are the connector of people from different groups, can easily access the resources and support they need to get anything done. The world of entrepreneurship can be brutally summarized as: it is whom you know, not what you know. Without the right connections, you could have the most dazzling ideas and thrilling perspectives, but you would barely be able to actualize any of these ideas into a living, breathing, functional startup. Starting up a company is a lonely journey but this does not mean that you need to be alone to start one. The bigger your network, the likelier you are to beat the odds.
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Perhaps the most glorious advantage of being a misfit is that you are literally one step ahead of us mere mortals. Because you think differently than the average person, you have the capacity to do more spectacular things than the next person does. In many ways, the odds of success are biased towards you, making it likely that your startup or most other things you may choose to engage in may have a better chance of flourishing than most.