Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher and founder of Western philosophy, imparted wisdom that remains relevant even in today’s fast-paced startup world. His teachings encourage introspection, humility, perseverance and commitment to excellence – evergreen virtues that, like other principles of ancient wisdom, have their direct application even in modern innovative projects. After all, to be successful as a founder you have to be successful with yourself, the world and other people, and the nature of these things hasn’t changed that much in the last few thousand years.
In this article, we’ll explore four key Socratic principles and how they apply to the startup journey.
“Falling is not failure. Failure comes when you stay where you fell.”
Startups are often characterized by setbacks and obstacles. Whether due to funding challenges, product iterations or market fluctuations, perseverance enables founders to overcome obstacles and find new paths to success. Successfully dealing with these obstacles (and many others) is what would ultimately determine your success or failure. This is not possible without perseverance and the willingness to move forward. This is why character strength is one of the most important factors for the success of a startup.
As a founder, you must embrace failure as part of the journey and an important learning opportunity. At the same time, you need to keep failures and their impact to a minimum, because to win you need to be able to keep playing the game.
2. Humility and the Pursuit of Wisdom:
“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves and the world around us.”
Socrates emphasized the importance of humility and recognizing our own limitations.
Recognizing that you don’t have all the answers is critical to success. It’s easy for founders to become overly invested in their ideas and assumptions, which can blind them to potential shortcomings or missed opportunities.
Embracing the wisdom of Socrates means actively seeking knowledge, constantly learning, and validating assumptions through customer interviews and market validation tests. Adopting a humble mindset allows founders to iterate and adjust their strategies based on feedback, increasing the likelihood of building a successful business.
3. Commitment to Excellence:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is then a habit.”
Socrates believed that excellence is not an act in itself, but rather a habit formed by consistent actions. Startup founders should strive for excellence in every aspect of their venture. By focusing on delivering exceptional products or services, providing excellent customer experiences and continuously improving their business, founders can differentiate themselves from competitors. Cultivating a culture of excellence lays the foundation for long-term success and helps startups differentiate themselves in the crowded marketplace.
4. The Examined Life:
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Socrates advocated self-reflection and critical examination of one’s beliefs and assumptions. You can apply this principle by regularly questioning your motivations, goals, and strategies. The Socratic method of questioning assumptions helps founders uncover potential biases, identify gaps in their reasoning, and make informed decisions. This is most easily done in consultation with your co-founder(s), but going this route means being open to having your assumptions and motivations challenged.
By critically examining your own thinking and challenging conventional wisdom, you can make informed choices for their startups.
In conclusion, Socratic principles provide valuable guidance for startup founders embarking on their entrepreneurial journey. Perseverance empowers founders to rise above failures, while humility encourages continuous learning and adaptation. The pursuit of excellence drives founders to strive for greatness, and the explored life allows them to question their own motivations and make informed decisions.