Have you ever played Sonic the hedgehog? What a classic! The objective of the game is to get Sonic to jump, run and roll through each level avoiding an array of enemies that want to make you roadkill. At the end of each treacherous stage you’ll reach a guarded exit protected by your arch nemesis Dr. Evil. Beat him and the exit is cleared allowing you to advance to the next level. Keep this up level after level, enemy after enemy, and you’ll win the game! — But wait there’s more! Along the way, Sonic must pick up as many magical “rings” as he can. If Sonic does get attacked while in possession of these rings he’s able to brush it off and continue on.
So which was more important: getting to the next level or acquiring the rings? Any kid would have told you, “Duh – both! Obvi.” If you only collect the rings you may never get to the end of the level. Conversely, if you only try to get to the end of the level, rendering yourself ringless, you dramatically decrease your chances of survival.
Of course, one could play the perfect game dodging all would be attackers and avoiding falling off cliffs to a spiky-floored doom; by doing so you would indeed win the game. But who could make it through all those levels without one misstep, one slipped finger, or a distracted moment when your Mom calls you down for dinner? I’m going to take a stab and say not a single person. So, thanks to those gracious creators at Sega, players could mitigate risk and balance options each time they jumped at an opportunity to grab more rings.
With that, we find what Sonic taught us about startups. Success is a goal we direct our focus towards, however, a deterministic, single-line path towards our goal can inadvertently create a tragic outcome.
Nine out of ten startups fail, right? I bet they’re often composed of hard workers with great ideas and a focus toward a goal. A major hurdle to overcome, and one that is far less obvious, is that the narrow focus on the goal can cause an unbalance in your business and ironically doom your chances in achieving it.
A goal may live on a straight-line, but that line is not necessarily the path to take. The best path is almost always one that dances around the line. Taking the time to look away towards an entirely different direction can reveal a path with fewer hurdles. Simply put, our “rings” come from friendships, support systems, a passion in what you do, mistakes needed to be made, failures to learn from, vacations to escape to, and random ideas that inspire. When we remember to grab onto those rings when we can, or even sometimes when it doesn’t seem like we can, we will be far more able to last the “attacks” the startup game will inevitably throw our way.
So my fellow hedgehogs, should you grab at all the rings you can, even if at times by doing so you are unable to race towards the goal? Most definitely! Any kid who had a Sega will tell you, you have to do both. Duh! Obvi.