Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Group, is known for his countless insightful musings on the world of business and entrepreneurship, but there’s one saying in particular that’s been on my mind a lot lately.
“Finding something frustrating and seeing an opportunity to make it better is what entrepreneurship is all about.”
What a simple, yet profound, statement. It’s so true. Think of all the great innovations in history, and the inception of that product or service likely came from someone’s long-held frustration. Frustrated that taxis are expensive and hard to fetch? Here’s Uber. Think hotels are overpriced? Well, here’s Airbnb. Want to eat at a place that doesn’t offer delivery? OK, here’s GrubHub. Are you sick of using slow and ugly looking computers? Welcome to Apple.
The examples are endless.
Frustration is indeed the core of what spawns most great businesses. But, on a deeper level, there’s something even more powerful about being frustrated. Not only can frustration help people come up with ideas or create new ventures, but it can act as a motivator to keep individuals from stagnating when it comes to their own development.
Most workers often feel frustrated. Maybe they feel frustrated in their jobs. Maybe they feel like they’re not paid what they’re worth. Maybe they feel like they’re underutilized. Maybe they feel like they’re not in a great work environment. Maybe they feel like they aren’t in the right career. Frustration of this ilk can have a tremendous effect on workers. Still, while many of these frustrations might seem negative, I actually think these are the types of positive frustrations workers need to remain motivated.
Think about it. If people weren’t frustrated with their jobs, careers, standing, etc., what would be driving them to eventually get out of being frustrated? Being frustrated, it turns out, is just what most people need to help them grow and achieve their longer-term career goals. Frustration helps people not only better define what it is they’re hoping to get out of their loves and careers, but it acts as the primary motivator to help them get where they’re wanting to do.
I, too, often feel frustrated. Not in my role as Talent Economy’s managing editor, of course (well, maybe when it’s time to figure out column ideas), but in other, more subtle ways regarding my career and personal development. Do these frustrations often get in the way of my progress toward some of these goals? Absolutely. But, in a more valuable sense, I feel as if these frustrations keep me reevaluating what my goals are and how I can accomplish them.
Every business leader feels frustration. Absolutely no business leader has attained success without it. And if anyone says they have, they’re probably lying. One of my major takeaways from Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s memoir “Shoe Dog,” which I wrote about at length last week, is that the path to success isn’t linear. As you read the book, it almost seems as if Knight’s roadblocks, challenges and frustrations outnumber the successes. Each and every year Nike faced what seemed at the time to Knight to be an existential crisis. And each time Knight and his management team found a way to overcome it and push on — only to find that, behind the next turn, came yet another frustration.
Leaders shouldn’t be afraid of frustration. It’s not to say that frustration is an enjoyable experience worth looking forward to, to be sure. But understand that feeling frustrated is a normal part of development. I’d even argue that if you’re not feeling frustration from time to time, you’re doing something wrong. You’re not pushing yourself enough. You’re not thinking big. You’re not growing.
Don’t let frustration get you down. Allow it to ride its course. Think deeply about what each episode means and how it can be spun into a positive developmental experience. Above all, don’t let being frustrated change how you view yourself and your accomplishments. Being frustrated isn’t a sign of weakness or lack of accomplishment. It’s a sign that you’ve reached a previously desired goal — and are in need of something bigger and better to reach toward.
Frank Kalman is Talent Economy’s managing editor.