Of all the characteristics that are touted as the cornerstone of success in entrepreneurship (financial management, time management, passion, work ethic, etcetera), adaptability is the one that is the least discussed and understood.
Adaptability is defined as the ability to adjust oneself readily to different conditions. These different conditions are most commonly assumed to originate from changes in the economy, market conditions or even disruptive technologies that change the industry landscape entirely. While these changes are things that every business — startup or established — has to deal with, there is a greater adaptability issue that entrepreneurs have to face, and that is adapting to their evolving business idea.
When starting a new business, founders will have certain ideas about their target market, the projected use of their product or service, and even the pricing classification that they anticipate offering. However, within the first 365 days of starting a new business, every entrepreneur learns many things they did not know about before they began.
Entrepreneurs learn lessons that help to speed up their time to market and increase revenue, as well as face numerous expenses that they did not anticipate. Many times, the same entrepreneurs face the harsh reality that their plan was insufficient in understanding the intensity of the competitive landscape, the size of the available market or the sales cycle and their respective times to close. These are all things the entrepreneur will have to understand, and, if they want to succeed, adapt to.
Without the ability to adapt to these changes, entrepreneurs and many other people continue to work diligently on programs and opportunities that are either no longer relevant or are losing relevance every day. And at the end of this path, they wonder what went wrong.
To avoid this, there are three critical steps to ensure you are keeping your adaptability meter on high alert:
Always reassess your plan for the current environment
- Is my idea still relevant?
- Is my strategic plan for deployment still the best way to enter the market and capture market share?
- Have I clearly identified and accepted the new risks and issues that I know about the business that I did not know before?
Avoid strict structures and decision biases when evaluating your current or proposed strategy
If you can keep an open mind in regards to the uses and avenues for your business to grow, you can always find a solution. You might find that a product you have developed for the commercial market is best suited for the consumer market. If you are mired down in strict structures and decision biases favoring commercial applications, you can miss the boat on a great opportunity to build a business that services a large number of consumers and provides your organization the capital and experience it needs to evolve your product.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind or accept that you were wrong in your assessment of the market, the economy or your own product
Fear is something entrepreneurs have to regularly look past or work through. Fear of failure is something that is hard to deal with especially when you perceive that failure to be of your own making.
To readily adapt to new opportunities, set aside this fear and just go for it. Otherwise, you will continue down a path that will lead to a permanent type of failure that will not be good for you or your company in the long run.
Adaptability is a quality that we cannot set aside as we grow. We have seen many companies that have lost tremendous market share because they did not adapt to the changing environment — IBM losing the opportunity to conquer the personal computer market, Kodak with pictures and film, or the U.S. auto industry in the late 1970s with fuel-efficient vehicles. Add adaptability to your list of entrepreneurial strengths and you will always find opportunity even in the moments that seem to be immersed in failure.
Rahim Charania is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of American Fueling Systems. He has propelled AFS from a small startup to a recognized leader in the alternative fuel industry.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organisation comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship programme that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.