The busy, obsessive entrepreneur often talks about being pulled in all directions. “So many responsibilities, challenges, obligations, and opportunities to deal with,” he or she moans. But equally challenging is being pulled in just two directions, if the forces are diametrically opposed. Then you have a paradox, or polarity, which no amount of analysis, labor, or spreadsheets can resolve.
A polarity is a pair of interdependent positive opposites that are both needed over time for a healthy, thriving person or organization. Polarities are dilemmas that cannot be solved, but must be managed. It’s a case of “both and” not “either/or.”
For example, a strong business needs to plan for both the short and long term; it needs to focus on results as well as the processes used to achieve those results.
The entrepreneur gets a double whammy. He or she must deal with polarities of the business as well as individual ones: polarities related to personal strengths and weaknesses, skills sets, and natural tendencies.
Here are two personal polarities that can be particularly challenging for the entrepreneur.
1. Listen to feedback or ignore it?
Entrepreneurs get a lot of input—solicited and unsolicited—from colleagues, employees, family members, investors, and more. It’s important to listen to that feedback and, at times, it’s important to ignore it. (There’s that “both and” vs. “either/or” thing.)
Entrepreneurs see opportunities not apparent to other people. Which means the feedback you receive may be off-base. You may get input that’s contrary to what you want to do. Your feedback sources may not “get” it, so they’ll try to dissuade you.
But those same resources may have valuable insight and wisdom that’s eluding you. Some hard truth you’re having trouble acknowledging. So it’s vital to listen to that feedback⎯and to be willing to ignore it, if need be. Take it in. Chew on it. Decide what is useful and relevant, and move forward accordingly.
2. Risk-taker vs. risk-avoider
An entrepreneur must be both a risk-taker and risk-averse. The trick is figuring when to be what: when to take the bold, untried path and when to choose the proven route.
People often assume that entrepreneurs are more comfortable with risk than those with less entrepreneurial spirit. But it’s not that we’re more comfortable with risk; it’s that we have a different relationship with risk than other people. We’re OK with the polarity of risk-taking vs. risk-aversion. We’re able to operate effectively with the constant dilemma. We take risks, but we take them in calculated ways. Again, “both and” not “either/or.”
There are many other polarities that the entrepreneur must grapple with: when to compete vs. collaborate? When to be monomaniacal vs. involve other people in decisions? When to focus on short-term results vs. setting the stage for the future?
Being an effective, successful entrepreneur requires first recognizing that the polarity exists, then navigating it with care and wisdom—remembering that it’s a “both and” scenario, not “either/or.”