Guy Hands’ View

22 March 2016

Change May Define Today, But What Makes Individuals and Societies Successful Stays the Same

Wherever we are, whatever field we are in today, it is change which is the unifying theme. It is both its pace and all-encompassing nature which shapes our lives, opportunities and challenges more than ever before.

The danger, however, when faced with such continual upheaval is to believe nothing stays the same. But when recently I was asked to share with students from around the world some thoughts from my 40 years in business, I realised that many of the principles which guide me were as true today as when I started out.

First, business, at its heart, is not an intellectual process but about commitment and courage just as is success in sport. There are plenty of bright businessmen and women just as there is no shortage of skilful footballers. But the ones who succeed are those with dedication and a willingness to keep working until they can make a difference.

Successful long-distance runners have to train until they are gasping for air. Being an entrepreneur, at times, can be just as painful emotionally rather than physically. But if you want to succeed, you have to be prepared to tolerate the doubt, the brickbats and inevitable failures.

Second, success remains about finding the right role. Over the years, for example, I have seen many people confuse what’s needed to be a good manager. It is not about being more able or qualified than those you lead but having the ability and focus to get them to do a better job than perhaps even they believed they were capable. Again, it’s like sport. The best captain is not necessarily the best player. The most successful managers have often had mediocre careers on the pitch.

Thirdly, you’ve got to be focused on what you want to achieve and where your abilities lie. I love photography and am fascinated by politics. But I would never have been a great photographer and I am certain I would have made a terrible politician. From the beginning, I concentrated on identifying opportunities where I could change a business. I didn’t allow other passions or interests to distract me.

This brings me to the final point – the idea that you can somehow ‘have it all’. It is one of the great myths of Western society. What’s important is to make a choice over how you want to contribute whether it is as an entrepreneur, an artist, a carer, a scientist or any of the many other roles we need for a healthy society. Each is equally important and needs to be recognised and nurtured.

But if you want to be happy, it’s important that you choose something at which you excel or care about and don’t spread yourself too thinly. It is also vital that you are ready to break with the herd.

Back in the 70s, the era which forged my views, few chose the entrepreneurial route. Taxation was so high, the risk did not seem worth it and prosperity suffered. In contrast, at the beginning of this century, too many people decided to try for commercial success – at any price – with serious consequences for countries.

For the sake of the global economy, I hope enough young people again want to go out there and become entrepreneurs. And for the sake of a truly successful society, I hope many also choose a different path which suits their abilities and ambitions. This need for balance is something else which does not change.

This article appeared in the Huffington Post on 22 March 2016.

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