Recently I was invited by a friend to speak at an entrepreneurship programme his organisation is running at a nearby prison. It's a skills development programme that strives to equip previous offenders with the necessary skills to re-enter the marketplace as businessmen.
I spoke about the things I'd learned in the ten years since starting my business. It was a very rewarding experience.
As I was leaving one of the men from the programme came to chat to me. He asked me this: "If you had to sum up success in one word what would it be?" I stood there for a moment thinking. "Sustainability" I finally replied.
He looked at me a little confused. I explained myself like this: I believe that in business there are two 'economies'. You can choose to function in one or the other, but not both at the same time.
The first one is a faith economy. It's an economy where what you believe drives your decisions. So if a solid business, a healthy marriage and well-rounded children are what you believe in then you make decisions based on those values. It's all about what you can give.
The other is a fear economy. It's driven by outer workings, like peer pressure, insecurities and a general concern for not having enough or looking the part. These are the things that end up driving your decisions. This economy is all about what you can get.
"So what?" You may say. The challenge comes in here: I think most people that start out in business world wanting what's in the first economy, the 'faith' one.
The challenge comes when they have to make difficult business decisions, which put their values to the test. And that's where 'sustainability' comes in.
Consider this: if you believe in a solid business, healthy family and well rounded children, do you sacrifice one for the sake of another? As in you work hard and late every day to provide for your wife and kids, but never see them. As a result your marriage falls apart and your kids don't want to know you.
Then something else is driving you, it's not the 'faith' economy it's the 'fear' one. You're worried about having enough, looking the part or saying "no", but at the expense of your family. This is not sustainable.
Or the opposite, you love your wife and kids, so you try see them all the time and work as little as possible. As a result you can't really afford to pay your bills, but you love each other. Once again, something else is driving you, and it's not the 'faith' economy it's the 'fear' one. You're afraid of failure, so you'll rather not try as hard in case you get rejected or fail, and so you take the easy road. And as a result your family suffers. This too is not sustainable.
This brings me back to the question I was asked in the beginning. I think success is all about sustainably. You need to regularly ask yourself when key business decisions come your way: Is this sustainable? Or will it disrupt my values? Like a solid business, healthy marriage and well-rounded children? If the answer is no, have the faith to stay in the right economy because in the long run being successful in business is all about being sustainable.