September 14, 2020
Resilience in Entrepreneurship: The Unwavering Unreasonableness

Not everybody fares the same when faced with adversity. Why do certain people remain calm and even find strength to rebuild when faced with challenges, while others come to a grinding halt?

17th century Japanese Samurai Mizuta Masahide captures the essence of the entrepreneurial resilience of this first group — he once said he could now see the moon after his barn burned to the ground! That dogged positivism and unwavering unreasonableness (that borders on the absurd) is one of the marks that distinguishes winners and those who drop by the wayside.

But is this ilk of entrepreneurs born or made?

“I think they are made,” says Jacob Zikusooka, East Africa Regional Director at Transformational Business Network (TBN). “After many years in the trenches (and I talk from personal experience), the fear of failure losses its sting. The truly enduring and called entrepreneurs know, firsthand, that failure is a good thing. And that if handled well, failure is the bedrock of success. They never allow fear to numb them into inaction.”

Jacob notes that throughout history, times of intractable challenge have brought with them great opportunity. In the late 1940s, after the Second World War, many businesses in the US were crawling on their knees. One such company, though it would later become one of the United States’ cornerstone technology companies, was Hewlett-Packard. Sales were minuscule. Revenues were in doldrums. But what do you know — Hewlett-Packard went on a hiring spree. When asked what they were thinking during those tempestuous years, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard exclaimed, “How could we afford not to!” They were snatching up talent on the low — great engineers that pivoted HP into the enduring brand that it is today.

Jacob believes the current COVID-19 crisis is another similar environment — and the entrepreneurial spirit is rising even now. “I was talking to a Ugandan entrepreneur last week whose sales have gone through the roof. That only came because his outlets had been closed and he had been left with only two choices: Either go with the devil and the deep blue sea or else hit the high streets and sell.” He chose the latter.

Sometimes change is so quick and disruptive that it is hard to tell disaster from opportunity. We have many entrepreneurs in the TBN East Africa community who are not letting this crisis go to waste. They are finding opportunity in unfavorable conditions. For instance, Nairobi-based e-grocery business Herdy Fresh has ramped up their operations to focus on online sales. Another, Pendo Care in Uganda, is riding the crest by using this season of lockdowns to boost sign-ups for their e-learning platform.

The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.” In business, resilience goes beyond recovery during or after a crisis. It is the ability for a business to quickly adapt to disruptions, maintaining continuous business operations.

Resilience is not doused in irrational optimism. It weighs the odds. It assesses the risk. And proceeds anyway.

We are all naturally endowed with great potential to weather adversity, but we need to have the social and material resources to do so. At ANDE, we’ve seen our members move in to provide materials and toolkits that can help build business resilience. So the question about whether resilience is innate becomes less important than focusing on how we can promote healthy ecosystems that allow individuals’ natural protective systems to grow and operate effectively.