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What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Cortés, Captain of the Conquistadors

Michael Hayman Thursday, 20 December 2012.

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Cortés, Captain of the Conquistadors

There is a legend that the captain of the Conquistadors, Cortés, burned his boats before facing the Aztecs. The message to his men was clear. There was no turning back, no point looking over their shoulders, the only way was forward.

Looking back seems to be a predilection of today as we search for a beam of certainty in the fog of economic downturn. All year, we have had a diet of media pessimism punctured by the odd story of optimism that is then royally rounded upon as a new age heresy. God forbid that the professional doom mongers might be proved wrong in their absolute certainty that we are on our way to hell in a handbag.

Burn me at the stake because I do question this orthodoxy, not because I think it is wrong but because I think that the constant speculation is largely pointless. If the crashes of 2008 and 2011 prove anything it is that these self-proclaimed authorities know nothing, are wise after the event, and are on a merry-go-round of noise, not insight.

There is no way back in time to a mythical nirvana called 2007, which now I think of it, was it really that good? It still seemed to be a year plagued by the worry of the good times ending and the spectre of downturn.

Well, now we are well and truly in it, the downturn is here. So my advice is to heed the actions of the Conquistadors: victory is not secured by going backwards but forwards into an uncertain future. Uncertainty is what life is all about. We may not always like it but it is the reality of the human condition.

Think of the change in the national psyche we would deliver if rather than trying to make sense of change and disruption, we just got on and accepted it, used it and to some degree revelled in it.

Isn’t uncertainty the way that most entrepreneurial success stories develop anyway?

What certainty was there for Steve Jobs or Sir Richard Branson in their earliest days? Let me tell you, none whatsoever.

Uncertainty is the story of the entrepreneur; uncertainty is the reality of now. We need to grip it, embrace it and use it.

No doubt over the Christmas period, as retail indicators and GDP forecasts emerge, a range of gasbags will tell us with utmost certainty what this all means.

None of today’s experts really know what is going to happen. And what really matters is what you do to secure the future of your family, your business and your team. That’s really all you can do.

So merry Christmas – and think about the Conquistadors as you contemplate the second helping of turkey.

This article originally appeared in Real Business

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Michael Hayman

Michael Hayman

Michael is co-founder of the campaigning company Seven Hills, the fastest growing public relations firm in the UK today.

He is also co-founder of StartUp Britain, the national initiative for early stage enterprise, which is fully supported by Prime Minister David Cameron and HM Government.

Michael is chairman of entrepreneurs at the private bank Coutts & Co and is chairman of MADE: The Entrepreneur Festival.

He is a contributing editor for Real Business and a columnist for Start Your Business Magazine.

Michael is a non-executive member of Festivals Edinburgh. He also served as a non-executive director with the cities of Westiminster, Sheffield and as a commissioner on the Inquiry Into The Future Of Cities And Local Government Finance.

He is a fellow of the British American Project, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and the Royal Society of Arts. He is also a freeman of the Guild of Public Relations Practitioners, is listed in Debrett's People of Today and is an ambassador for the Courvoisier Future 500.

Michael was educated at the London School of Economics, Queen Mary College, and Millfield.

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