No One Wants To Catch A Falling Knife

In business, hubris can serve you extremely well. Confidence in your mission, your capabilities, and your opportunities can separate you from the pack. A healthy ego can make or break a businessman, and I often encourage the people I work with to move through their career with self-assurance. But while hubris and ego can help get a project started, I have seen it become a liability more times than I can count.

In my piece titled Threading the Needle, I talked about how in order to create a successful business, you need to get 100s if not 1000s of little things right along the way. You have to thread the needle in order to wind up with a tapestry.  What I didn’t discuss in that piece is that threading skill and time are inversely proportional. The longer you stay in the game, the greater the probability of mistakes.

I have seen it dozens of times. What goes up must come down. Growth is not infinite, and factors can change at a moment’s notice. No amount of self-confidence can save you from human error or landscape changes. When business owners stall or become greedy, that is when they are most vulnerable. When someone holds out for slightly more revenue, or an improved economy, or for an unnecessary product line to launch, that is when hubris can become detrimental. This can be the difference between a successful exit and a mediocre one. The attitude of “we can do this, it will all work out,” quickly stales as factors change and growth begins to dwindle.

Creating a successful business is a balance between ego and diligence. No task is too small, problem too insignificant, or concern invalid to someone striving for success. You have to balance the belief that you can do it with the dedication it takes in order to actually achieve it, and you have to get out at the exact right moment.

The longer you wait, the more likely it is that mistakes will be made and that a business’s health will waiver. Starting a successful business is like tossing a knife into the air. Doing it takes confidence and skill, and it often impresses others. But once that knife starts to fall, attitudes change and what once felt like an amazing feat quickly becomes a liability.

My advice to business owners is this – quit while you’re on top. The mountain may not be as high as you want it to be, but you may slip off of that next ridge. Be confident, diligent, and cautious. That is how successful businesses are launched, grow, and sell. Don’t be the person trying frantically to slow something’s fall. Instead get out at the apex and move on to your next endeavor.