Failure terrifying but not trying at all even more so

Thinking, reading and contemplation time is vital for those a-ha moments.  PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Thinking, reading and contemplation time is vital for those a-ha moments. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
My first Otago Daily Times column was in January 2014 — time flies.

I remember that Christmas, with my brother’s family in Ohau, I tried to engage the whanau in coming up with a name for the column — their suggestions are not repeatable and I have to say that once the suggestions started gravitating to toilet humour, I had little chance of recovery. Fortunately, the ODT stepped in and suggested a title with suitable gravitas and “Fence Lines” was born.

Dr Anna Campbell
Dr Anna Campbell
In my inaugural column I declared — “I start 2014 with a New Year’s resolution of creating thinking time. For this to be more than just a grandiose promise, I have decided to initiate ‘Thinking Thursdays’ — the day clearly chosen for its alliterative appeal rather than anything profound about Thursdays. On my Thinking Thursdays, several hours will be blocked from phone calls, emails, meetings and deadlines — unless particularly pressing, as one still has to pay the bills.”

Oh, what a dreamer I was, with such excellent intentions, intentions I am still trying to uphold.

Last week, I attended a week-long company directors course run by the Institute of Directors (a superb course for those interested and for me, worth every cent of the time and financial investment). One of the many themes which came up was that New Zealanders value activity — doing things, getting on with it — over and above time spent thinking.

I completely relate to that and have always thought it was a sign of our busy, overscheduled time, but hadn’t thought about it in a cultural context. It’s probably something which springs from our wonderful No 8 wire mentality.

When I look back on the big decisions I have made, or the a-ha moments I have had in my career, I am struck that they often come during moments of down time — how many people do we know who made life-changing decisions during the lockdown, when we stepped off the treadmill for a short while?

I was one of those people, co-founding a new company, Zestt Wellness, and all that that entailed — my realisation at the time, if I don’t do this now, another 20 years will pass and really, what have I got to lose? Failure is terrifying, but not trying at all is more terrifying.

As with any start-up company, things don’t go as smoothly as planned. As I tried to figure out our direction, I remember sitting in my “reading chair” with the sun streaming into my lounge and having an a-ha moment while reading a start-up book by Prof Steve Blank (a Stanford entrepreneur with numerous successful start-ups under his belt). His wise advice (I am paraphrasing here) was that too many people try to apply corporate structures to start-ups too early and kill them. He then goes on to say the fundamental job of a start-up is to find a business model, which means try things, be agile and then when you find the business model that works, boom, scale and go hard — after that, hopefully you won’t be a start-up anymore.

At that point, I realised it was too early in our business for a set three-year plan and we needed to stay moving, light on our feet — more of sevens rugby approach than the traditional 15-aside game.

From that point on, I have had far more confidence in trying things with Zestt and moving on quickly when they don’t work, to the point where we now believe we have something worth scaling — exciting times lie ahead with no guarantees!

Thinking, reading and contemplation time is vital for those a-ha moments. Having the discipline to operate a “Thinking Thursday,” would be great, but unfortunately is not in my wheelhouse. However, I do operate a philosophy of keeping housework to a minimum in order to make my “reading chair” a priority every weekend. My advice, whatever your equivalent is of the reading chair, make time for it and protect it fiercely.

  • Anna Campbell is the co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company, and a partner in AbacusBio Ltd, an agri-technology company.



Bloke From Hurunui*

Oldsters might go for Macrocarpa Lines, Goss Lines (Gorse).

Great column, that Fence Lines.