Early in my career, I entered into a partnership to launch a design firm. My partner and I were eager, creative and passionate, but we had no plan for how to make the world a better place. Our work was simply intended to fill an inspirational void.

So we took on a few clients who consumed our nights and weekends, as we were each doing double duty in our day jobs at established firms. Sadly, the harder we worked, the more we realized that we were not doing the inspirational projects we had originally set out to do. Instead, we had settled for whatever work we could find.

Talent isn’t enough for a venture to succeed. Tweet This Quote

In less than two years, our partnership faltered and dissolved. Looking back, I realized that for all of our hard work and effort, we never identified any truly meaningful reason for why our business should exist. We only believed that we had talent and that we would be better than our peers at managing a creative design firm. We did not stop to realize that talent wasn’t enough for a venture to succeed. It was my first failure at trying to bring a business to life, but it would not be my last.

Learning Hard Lessons

Some of my most painful lessons have come from the unfortunate experience of trying and failing to launch new businesses. The most frustrating aspect was that I never had the gratification of watching them implode in spectacular fashion. Instead, my work often suffered through the slow, silent death of fading into irrelevance.

My experiments in entrepreneurship failed precisely because that’s the way I saw them – as experiments. I never committed to them in ways they might have deserved. I was unwilling to take the necessary risks, and I let them die because I had no clear plan for what they were to become.

But, hard lessons like these actually help us make better decisions. I now understand that entrepreneurship is not about launching new businesses; it’s about solving worthwhile problems and bringing disruptive ideas into the world.

You need to know why your venture should even exist in the first place. Tweet This Quote

These experiences also helped me gain the following set of four guidelines that help ensure my work is worth doing, that it makes a positive impact, and that it receives my full commitment.

1. Meaning

Always have a specific and unquestionable understanding of why your endeavor matters. In part, this is about understanding your customer, their needs, their desires and their fears – and having solutions that address those concerns. But beyond that, it is about knowing why your venture should even exist in the first place.

Several years ago, I had a client who was working to prevent deaths from severe allergic reactions. They had developed an epinephrine auto-injector, which featured a clever voice prompt system to ensure proper usage and delivery of the drug. Of the six million people in the U.S. at risk of anaphylaxis, nearly half have reported the fear that their caregivers – or that they themselves – will misunderstand how to utilize an auto-injector. Even more worrisome is the link between delay in treatment and death from these reactions. This kind of innovation might not only change a customer’s life, but quite possibly save it.

It must become your mission to do this thing not because you want to, but because you have to. Tweet This Quote

Kaléo, the developer of the Auvi-Q injector, knows the meaning they bring to the world. That meaning has driven them through the long, hard stages of launching their business, gaining FDA approval, and entering a market stacked with established pharmaceutical players. Their success is built on a long history of struggle that’s difficult to overcome without a deep, guiding mission.

Is the world a better place with your company in it? Do you make a perceptible difference? Without sound answers to those questions, it can be difficult to defend why your endeavor is relevant or necessary – and to see it through the hard times.

2. Purpose
Once you know why you matter, you must translate your sense of meaning into action. It is not enough to simply have a purpose; more importantly, you have to act with purpose. Every product, every feature, and every service you offer must speak back to your essential reason for being.

Purpose is about intentionality and clarity. It’s about making decisions with your meaning in mind and ensuring that it does not get buried in the complexities of day-to-day decision-making. And it’s about pursuing your endeavor with a religious zeal. It must become your mission to do this thing not because you want to, but because you have to.

Invest in your purpose by systematically questioning even basic decisions. How does this action further our mission? How might we do this differently to create more meaning?

3. Focus
Once you are acting with purpose, you must then find focus. One of the biggest reasons for my frequent failures is that I take on too many divergent projects and spread my efforts too thin. I have an attention deficit issue when it comes to things that interest and excite me. I take on too many things because I want to do everything – but everything is not one thing. Success requires the focus to understand and own that one thing.

Most people see the world as it is. Entrepreneurs see the world as it can be. Tweet This Quote

What’s that one thing that improves your customer’s life? What’s the one thing that only you can solve? What is absolutely core to your purpose? Forget everything else for now until you’re an expert at that.

4. Risk
Most people see the world as it is. Entrepreneurs see the world as it can be. This alone is a powerful attribute, but it is made even more powerful when paired with the willingness to not only envision a divergent future, but to take big bets on it.

The only way to achieve real progress is to shoulder some level of purposeful risk – this is what separates entrepreneurs from the rest of the working world. It is not about gambling on the future; it’s about trusting in our own ability to positively shape history. When we know that the work we do matters and we are focused on a clear purpose, all that remains is for us to take substantial bets on the world we aim to create.

What envisioned future are you willing to make bets on? What are you willing to lose in order to make this a success? Is this mission worth the cost, and will its success repay you or provide a sense of fulfillment? The risks we take are not just financial; they may come at a cost to our health, our relationships, and our families. Only you can make these choices, but understand that they must be made.

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I once heard a songwriter say that they know when they have composed something beautiful when they wake up in the middle of the night and realize they have been hearing that very melody in their dreams. In much the same way, I know something is worth doing when thoughts of it keep me up at night. The sleepless nights confirm that the people I am working to serve truly need this solution and that I have the passion to help bring it to fruition.

Passion alone, however, rarely leads to success. My many failures provided me with this framework to shape that passion with meaning, purpose, focus, and the willingness to take risks. Although some of these guidelines may seem obvious, many of our efforts implode because we fail to give these foundational elements the necessary consideration. Don’t let that happen to you. Adhere to these principles, rediscover the meaning of entrepreneurship, and pursue work worth doing.

Chris Good

Author Chris Good

Chris is the Creative Director at One Workplace in California. His work is devoted to changing the way we think about the built environment. He is an advocate of the design thinking process and is a frequent speaker and presenter at events across the country, leading active workshops to solve big problems. Most of all he believes in the power of design to do good things for other people.

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