Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing

While we may think about financial risk in entrepreneurship, there’s another risk inherent in taking the leap – criticism. If you want to make the leap to entrepreneurship, you need to grow a thick skin.

Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing by Nancy Knowlton

People often ask me about being an entrepreneur and my tolerance for risk. They, like many others, are curious about what prompts another to undertake a risky venture, far from the presumed safe confines of working for a stable, well-funded company with customers and a supposed path to sustainability. To some, entrepreneurs are risk-takers. Full stop.

Careful risk mitigation

Thinking of myself as an entrepreneur, I can only position what I choose to do as being far from risk-taking. I am certainly aware of risk – it is literally everywhere in a business. But mundane things like getting out of bed or crossing the street actually involve taking a risk, too. Reasonable behavior and precaution mitigate that risk and move it into the nonissue category. I feel the same way about business risk – the actions that we take actively work to reduce the inherent and evolving risk. For many, even careful risk-mitigation isn’t enough for them to step into the world of entrepreneurship.

Risk of criticism

The biggest risk that most would-be entrepreneurs contemplate is financial risk – failing completely, having the company go out of business, losing both invested time and money. Certainly this is a high profile risk given the odds of starting a business and actually succeeding. Most statistics indicate that success is a long shot. But another type of risk that many entrepreneurs never contemplate when they start their businesses is the risk of criticism.

People everywhere seem to feel entitled to comment on anything and everything. Perhaps it’s the omnipresence of reality TV. Or perhaps it’s the never-ending commentary and analysis from writers and experts. Whatever the reason, the world over is full of gratuitous commentators who, from the safety of their armchairs, feel free to dissect the actions of people who are living their lives in real time.

Visualizing the scenario

Sports commentators have the benefit of seeing a play happen on the court or the field. They are quick to inject their expert opinion on the quality of the execution. It’s easy to imagine the perfect play and what a player should do. I do it all the time in golf. I watch the pros play on the weekend and see them hit the perfect shot in so many situations. I feel that I know exactly what to do in a similar situation – I just can’t execute with the same degree of precision. I am neither as prepared nor am I as practiced – but I know.

Real-time decisions

Business commentators, namely writers and analysts, sit by as results play out. Again, it is easy to imagine how things should develop, but that’s without regard to the dynamics of competition and other external factors that impact carefully made plans. Companies adapt in real time with the best information that they have at the time.

Everyone has a perspective. Everyone has insights into how things could have been done better, even though they are not there in the heat of the moment making decisions and taking action with imperfect information.

Want to be an entrepreneur with a business that scales and goes global? Then start by growing a thick skin. If you have a thin skin and can’t stand the sniping from the side and the criticism from people who have never or will never put themselves on the line, then maybe starting a business really isn’t for you. As the saying goes, “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.