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Why we’re saying RIP to the overnight success story.

Transformation can be something humans are naturally averse to, but to stagnate means almost certain death for a business.

In this era, change is a constant, whether it’s applying new technologies, revamping the ways products are built or sold, changing the way information is managed, or rethinking a workplace culture.

So how do we get comfortable with the ever-increasing rate of change? Perhaps by accepting that good things take time, refinement and adaptation, unlike this digital world would have us believe. 

A study by the Journal of Economic Psychology found that resilience – which was defined as ‘hardiness, resourcefulness and optimism’ – helped to predict entrepreneurial success.

As Vaughan Fergusson says in his column, Vend was a 10-year ‘overnight success’ and the charity he launched to help kids learn technology, the Pam Fergusson Charitable Trust, is a five-year ‘overnight success’. He says both of these ventures had multiple staring-into-the-abyss moments that didn’t quite get captured in the narrative.

Entrepreneurs go through all sorts of transformations: investments, expansions, exits, personal struggles, career changes, upheavals to new countries, and ventures into brand-new industries.

But all the people we spoke to recently for our Transformation Issue – from Soul Machine’s Greg Cross, to Predict HQ’s Campbell Brown, to Trade Me’s Diana Minnee and sextech expert Bryony Cole – have achieved success on the national and international world stage, and also have one common thread connecting all of them: they were tenacious and kept evolving and moving forward, even in the face of failure. 

Which goes to show that the path to success is inevitably paved with failure, it’s just shadowed by the myth of this overnight success story.

This doesn’t mean we should glamourise failure as a badge of honour, either. But New Zealand’s attitude to failure – and its ugly cousin, tall poppy syndrome – has something to answer for here in cultivating this myth.

So like tech entrepreneur Robett Hollis’ #RIPTallPoppy call out, I’m adding another death to the mix: RIP to the overnight success story. It does a disservice to all the founders out there shedding blood, sweat and tears into their ventures.

Instead, let’s reconfigure what success looks like by being more realistic about what happens in that invisible journey towards it.

This is an abridged version of my editorial in Idealog’s 2019 Transformation Issue. You can find a copy of it here.

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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