Stamina. It’s easy to recognize in the world of sport, but few people talk about its importance when it comes to success in other fields. I was struck by the following passage from Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias:
It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I finally got to see some very successful people up close for long enough to notice a strong pattern: the most successful have a lot more energy and stamina than do others. Which was a disappointment, as I could clearly see that I didn’t have as much stamina as they…
Of course stamina isn’t the only thing you need. It also helps to have motive, drive, intelligence, beauty, connections, charm, and many other things. But without stamina, you won’t be able to use those other things as many hours a day, which in close contests can make all the difference.
Again sports are a perfect example of how even small differences can affect the outcome of a game. In business, small differences can grow into huge differences in outcomes over time. A company like Lego, despite some difficulties over time, has been able to maintain its relevance, so much so that Lego sets are now considered, by some, ‘alternative assets.’ This only happens by having a long time horizon and commitment to the brand.
Morgan Housel at the Collaborative Fund has a great piece up talking about why new technologies are most often a very difficult sell. Inertia is always at play in decision making because we are by nature skeptical creatures and need very good reasons to change what (and how) we have been doing. Morgan talks about how long it took for some technologies, which we now think of as indispensable, to make their way into widespread use. He wraps up:
Creativity, engineering ability, and leadership are all great traits of entrepreneurs. But none matter without the endurance and patience necessary to see it through.
Endurance and patience come, in part, by having the right partners or stakeholders on your side. Mike Dariano at The Waiter’s Pad writes about how today’s successes are almost always a product of having tight alignment between stakeholders. From an investment perspective he talks about how Warren Buffett’s success is partly due to his ability to attract, retain and grow his investor base. Buffett’s pool of patient or ‘permanent capital’ is a function of investors buying into his world view and management style. Dariano writes:
No one embraces an expedition and expects to fail. I’d wager that it’s mostly smart, ambitious, hard-working people who even try. Yet projects fail all the time and stakeholders are part-of-the-reason why…Without the right stakeholders, ventures get less time and/or money than they need. Without the right incentives, things crumble too and here we have “the most profound problem in investing.”
There is, of course, a difference between stamina and stupidity.* Stamina applied to a too-hard problem or stamina applied to a business for which there are few (or no) customers become stubbornness. History is littered with geniuses who have spent their time and energy on problems that, in retrospect, had no solution or no payoff.
Individuals with long term, infinite mindsets, are able to apply their energies to problems that can move things forward. Simon Sinek, author of The Infinite Game, notes how thinking about business as an infinite game changes how we approach problems. Instead of searching for short-term winning formulas, it becomes about building organizations that can grow and adapt to changing environments. Sinek writing at Marker:
In the infinite game, the true value of an organization cannot be measured by the success it has achieved based on a set of arbitrary metrics over arbitrary time frames. The true value of an organization is measured by the desire others have to contribute to that organization’s ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure.
If you have a time horizon that is beyond that of your own career with a company you are, by definition, counting on having the stamina to push things forward. Not because there is a pot of gold waiting at the finish line, but because by doing so you make things better, even a little bit, for everyone involved.
If you assume everything that you want to accomplish will be harder than you think and take longer, then you should look for teammates and stakeholders who have previously demonstrated stamina. Because as Robin Hanson notes, it’s not at all clear that stamina can be taught.