That Entrepreneur Hasn’t Got a Prayer

alleywatch-logoNote: A version of this post appeared in my semi-regular column on AlleyWatch.

It’s a little surprising that entrepreneurs don’t pray more.

The best entrepreneurs are missionaries, not mercenaries. Even if they are not explicitly pursuing a social impact startup, they are driven by the sense that they can, at least in some small way, make the world a better place.

What’s more, so much of the startup journey hinges on fate. Being at the right event, at the right time, to meet the right investor or chancing to catch the attention of an influential journalist or hitting the market at just the moment when it is receptive to your disruptive service… and just before your competitors get there. Even if you do everything right, so much hinges on fate.

Lastly, karma pays a major role. Founders routinely do favors for people they have just met, paying it forward, knowing that sometime, somehow, some of these favors will pay dividends.

Hmm…. Sounds a lot like religion to me, albeit one oddly devoid of prayer.

A few years ago, I resolved to pray daily. I can’t say I’ve quite hit that mark but I succeed more often than not. And while I try to set aside a few minutes for free-form meditation on whatever issues most stress me, I’ve come to see the value of a structured liturgy.

One prayer, known as “The 18”, consists of 19 (Yes, 19. Long story.) short paragraphs, each an acknowledgement of God’s provision of a specific benefit (e.g., wisdom, health, financial success) and an implicit request for the same. It’s far from the most poetic or inspiring prayer. In fact, it’s pretty much a checklist. And therein lies the brilliance.

You achieve what you focus on. If you are looking for biz dev opportunities, you’ll see them everywhere, from sporting events to thanksgiving dinner (e.g., “oh, your cousin works at…”). If you are looking for a tech hire, you’ll find a way to mention it every chance you get (e.g., “So what’s new?” “Actually….”). So if you take a few minutes each morning to run through a structured checklist, you are basically attuning yourself to those opportunities.

It’s not that God is specifically answering those prayers (although who knows?) so much as that the act of praying opens your eyes to what’s already there. It’s as if $20 bills are strewn across the sidewalk and all you need to do is look (up from your smartphone) to see them.

What’s more, focus changes how you perceive events. When your train suddenly goes express and skips your stop, you could get annoyed at the delay. But if your focus is on getting in shape, you’ll enjoy the extra exercise. If an API you rely on is discontinued, you can either rue the setback or welcome the opportunity to see what additional functionality you can access with the newer APIs. It’s all a matter of mindset.

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, used to write “I, Scott Adams, am a successful syndicated cartoonist” 15 times each day. Ultimately, (and with the help of George Shultz and Gary Larson’s retirement) he became the #1 cartoonist holding a pen. He credits this affirmation with focusing his mind on the potential opportunities that were out there for the taking.

So what are you going to pray for today?

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About Andrew Ackerman

Andrew is recovering consultant turned serial entrepreneur, startup mentor and angel investor. He is the Managing Director at Dreamit, currently in charge of the Edtech accelerator program. Andrew is also a contributing writer to Fortune, AlleyWatch, The 74 Million, et. al. Andrew has founded two companies and has a keen appreciation for how hard it is to build a successful startup, even under the best of circumstances. He speaks Hebrew fluently as well as some Spanish, French, Japanese and JavaScript.

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