This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Unfair Advantage" by Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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If you want to succeed with your startup, what must you believe to be true? What should you value?
According to entrepreneurs Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba, your mindset determines your level of motivation and your ability to set ambitious but realistic goals. If you lack the right mindset, any action you take is less likely to succeed. We’ll look at two main aspects of the right mindset Ali and Kubba describe: first, believing that both hard work and luck matter, and, second, knowing your purpose.
Keep reading to learn more about the optimal startup mindset.
According to Ali and Kubba, the key to entrepreneurial success is leveraging your unfair advantages, the qualities or conditions that give you an edge over competitors. For example, you might have a lot of charisma, which allows you to easily influence others. Or you might have specialized technical knowledge that allows you to design innovative, time-saving software solutions.
(Shortform note: Ali and Kubba label these professional assets as “unfair advantages,” but Malcolm Gladwell would argue that these assets aren’t necessarily “unfair” at all—in some cases, they aren’t even “advantages.” In David and Goliath, Gladwell makes the case that the same advantages that give people power and success are often their greatest weaknesses. For example, in 1917, Lawrence of Arabia was able to defeat the much larger Turkish army in part because the Turks’ numerous troops and supplies hindered their mobility.)
But, before we discuss how to find and use your unfair advantages, we need to examine the startup mindset Ali and Kubba say you need to be successful.
(Shortform note: Many business leaders echo Ali and Kubba’s assertion that an entrepreneur’s mindset is the foundation for startup success. One key attribute is a positive attitude, which will give you the fortitude to withstand business challenges. To cultivate a positive attitude, focus on things you can control, such as recruiting quality team members and getting adequate sleep, instead of cultivating negativity by worrying about things you can’t control. Another powerful mindset characteristic to develop is resilience, which will enable you to rebound from setbacks quickly. To develop resilience, approach mistakes as learning opportunities, then incorporate insights you’ve gained into your future actions.)
Mindset #1: Both Luck and Hard Work Matter
To fulfill one key aspect of the startup mindset Ali and Kubba describe, you must simultaneously believe that hard work pays off and acknowledge that luck can be the difference between success and failure. While launching a successful startup requires dedicated effort, you may not be able to attain the same level of success as someone else, no matter how hard you work. In reality, we all have vastly different levels of privilege, luck, and opportunity that influence what we can realistically achieve. For example, if your competitor inherited a fortune from their parents, and you’re self-funding your startup, you can’t reasonably expect your success to equal theirs.
However, if you believe that luck is the only determining factor in success, you may become resigned, thinking that nothing you do ultimately matters, so why bother trying? To avoid this pitfall, Ali and Kubba say, you should aggressively pursue your goals with the resources you currently have to increase your chances of success—while knowing that some factors are out of your control. This determined yet realistic mindset will help you stay motivated to keep pursuing your dream, even when you encounter setbacks.
Mindset #2: Purpose Matters
The second essential element of a successful mindset involves knowing your purpose. As Ali and Kubba explain, the entrepreneurial journey is treacherous and filled with unknowns. If you don’t have a clear and compelling purpose for starting your business, you won’t be motivated to stay the course. Therefore, think carefully about why you’ve chosen to take this route.
To motivate yourself, Ali and Kubba recommend setting both self-serving external goals (like earning a certain income or becoming famous) and other-serving internal goals (like trying your best to improve elderly people’s quality of life, or to connect college graduates to career opportunities). Self-serving external goals often make you feel good in the short term, and there’s nothing wrong with using them to motivate yourself. However, Ali and Kubba state that you need other-serving internal goals because they give a greater sense of fulfillment that isn’t dependent on external circumstances. In other words, if you’re internally motivated, you’ll feel like a success even if you don’t achieve the outcome you want because you know you’re trying to do the right thing.
Ali and Kubba warn against being overly ambitious even when you define your other-serving, inspirational purpose. For example, don’t say you’re going to solve global warming, eliminate the gender wage gap, or become the first trillionaire, as those are completely unrealistic. Instead, identify a purpose that’s ambitious, inspiring, and realistically matches your circumstances.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Unfair Advantage summary :
- The guidebook you need if you're planning to start a business
- How to find and use your unfair advantages (everybody has some)
- The steps you must take to achieve startup success