The difference between perseverance and stubbornness

The difference between perseverance and stubbornness

One day I found myself at an event organized by the founder of a company I had some shares in. He was all excited and had invited a few dozen people to do the first test of his technology on an audience larger than two people.

After explaining some details he started the test. Another shareholder sat there alongside me and watched the whole thing crash and burn. The technology didn’t work, people were confused or annoyed and before we knew it, most of them had left to a bar downstairs.

I looked at the other shareholder and said something like ‘you win some you lose some’ and we agreed the whole thing was a failure and we had lost some money.

Then we met with the entrepreneur. He asked us what we thought and we swallowed hard and then told him we accepted failure and asked him how he wanted to wrap things up from here. To our surprise his vision of what just happened differed completely from ours. He thought the experiment went well because at least two people weren’t too negative and at least a small part of the technology worked.

The other investor and I then took turns explaining him that even with the best will of the world this couldn’t be perceived as a successful test. That the only thing we proved was that the technology didn’t work, and that there wasn’t anything to be optimistic or even hopeful about.

But we soon gave up, as it was clear the entrepreneur was unmovable in his faith in the future of his company.

That evening we said goodbye and never looked back. A few years later he abandoned the project and I never heard from him again after that.

Now, it is always great to meet entrepreneurs who want to fight their way to success and don’t give up. But we also see the kind of entrepreneurs who mistake perseverance with stubbornness. The challenge, of course, is finding out which one you are, at any given moment.

Image of Upton Sinclair via Library of Congress

So why is it so difficult for some people to let go of certain beliefs even in the light of overwhelming evidence that they are on the wrong path? I think this quote by Upton Sinclair could help understand this phenomenon:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”

I often use that quote when I talk about stubborn companies or organizations that refuse to innovate or change. But it applies to the stubborn entrepreneur as well and it becomes even more evident when we change that quote a bit:

“It is difficult to get a man to stop believing in something, when his salary depends upon him believing in it”

So, take a good hard look at what you are doing and ask yourself “am I persevering or am I just stubborn?”

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