Why Challenging Times Can Help us Learn, Grow and Find our ‘Flow’

By Marc Stöckli, Global Chair, Entrepreneurs’ Organization

This may be a contrarian point of view, but whether we are confronting a looming recession or adapting to difficulties in business as a result of a historic pandemic, I believe it is precisely life’s challenges—and how we rise to meet them— that create personal satisfaction.

When we work hard by choice, when we strive to learn and overcome difficulties, these are the sources of pride, joy and fulfilment, which ultimately shape us into our best selves. Or, as the late scholar, author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described it in his classic book ‘Flow’, these are the times we find our most productive flow; our path toward personal happiness.

Conventional thinking suggests that we should dodge adversity and move into protective mode when times are tough. We might even stop trying. I disagree not because I enjoy making my life harder, but because to keep moving forward, to value progress, and forever eye development is what makes life most satisfying and enriching. Better.

I was reminded of this before the holidays during a trip to Boston, US, to spend an immersive week with the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) at Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program, which focuses on Inspiring Entrepreneurial Strategy. It was a week packed with learning, designed to propel leaders onwards and arm us with new skills and thought processes that will enable our businesses to succeed.

It was also a week for nearly 100 diverse company founders to come together in person, and share experiences that will bond many of us for years to come.

Thirst for Learning is one of EO’s four core values and a quality that informs and shapes everything we do. Without learning, we are not just standing still; we risk going backwards. One element I especially enjoy about lifelong learning is that it is subjective. We each absorb information differently, then make use of it in our own ways. We never know what valuable new piece of intelligence we might gain by showing up and saying ‘yes’ to learning.

EO’s five-year-old relationship with Harvard Business School exemplifies this value, ensuring that our members have access to the pinnacle of entrepreneurial thinking. The exclusive program recognizes that, as leaders and founders, we need to be up-to-date with the latest innovations and ideas if we are to keep our businesses thriving. We are challenged to not necessarily work harder, but to think harder.

Here are a few of my insights from those rewarding days at Harvard, which I hope spark some curiosity in you.

1. Pause and reflect

What is your immediate thought when confronted by inconclusive data? Or even data you were not expecting? Perhaps your reaction is to panic, throw your computer out of the nearest window and start afresh. Instead, we were taught at Harvard to pause. All is not lost. Now is the time to reassess our options, challenge our assumptions and reconsider the status quo. This data might be more valuable to us than first thought.

Once we have taken stock, we can arm ourselves with the new data and use it to challenge the thinking of our boards or investors. Knowledge is power, and we are now empowered with fresh insight.

2. With scale comes stress

This will not be a surprise to many business founders and owners in the EO community, but if it helps to hear it again: any organization that scales will inevitably experience varying degrees of stress. Teams, systems and processes all need to adjust when a business grows. So how do we use our learnings to assess growth options?

We learned how the RAWI framework can be a simple but powerful method of taking control of the situation. R: are we Ready? A: are we Able? W: are we Willing? And I: are we Impelled?

3. Calendars do not lie

This, for me, links back to my central argument that time spent learning is never time wasted. When assessing one’s priorities and choices, the real test comes when comparing what is in my schedule with what will most propel me and my team or family forward. Is how I am spending time aligned with my core values and my highest, long-term priorities? It is tempting to spend our immediate time putting out figurative fires, and to accomplish that pressing, near-term goal; to get the quick win. But if we make time for learning, it can help us tackle that urgent task more easily next time.

It can feel tempting, even advantageous, to take the path of least resistance. But by pushing ourselves to embrace challenges, and learn through them, we can move closer to achieving that energizing state of flow, which is ultimately more rewarding.

For more insights and inspiration from today’s leading entrepreneurs, check out EO on Inc. and more articles from the EO blog

Categories: Entrepreneurial Journey Lessons Learned


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