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Business Lessons Learned in 2014

By : Ziad Abdelnour| 8 December 2014
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Looking back I can humbly say that 2014 was one of the highlights of my life in terms of learning about myself and how to make big things happen.

What did I exactly learn?

I learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Going into specifics, some other key business lessons I learned:

1. Be Fearless. There was constant pressure for me to normalize my activities, to be cautious and work within the system, and to water down the language and ambitions of my investment and trading activities. As a private family office with an uncertain future, institutionalization was seductive. However, this was not my purpose. It is the time I leaned to be fearless, pushing our firm Blackhawk Partners as far and as hard as possible to embrace risks, to challenge orthodoxy and fundamental assumptions, and to rethink the traditional revenue model. I learned to act as if it was impossible to fail, and to change the reality of what was possible. Disruption wasn’t our mission, but it became part of our culture and identity. When we didn’t push back hard enough, our programs were less successful because they signaled business as normal. We couldn’t attract “revolutionary ideas” when we asked for the mundane. In the end, the ultimate success of these efforts will depend on whether the institution becomes more like the startup, rather than if the startup becomes more like the institution.

2. Dare Mighty Things. A shared and inspirational vision is necessary to generate excitement, and create the momentum needed to overcome institutional inertia. The vision has to appeal to both the rational and the emotional sides of individuals. I learned that our goal is to make Blackhawk the unquestioned leader among family offices globally by harnessing the power of technology, trading and finance. Our initiatives are after all measured against a single standard: How can our innovation improve the speed, efficacy, cost, scale and/or sustainability of our investment and trading efforts? This gave us metrics that were measurable and clear across a diversity of different areas. Our vision allowed us to do big things.

3. Consistency is Key. I learned that perfection of effort is not required. It is the consistency of attempting to work these tools that brings the progress. It’s like anything else. If I want to tone muscle, lifting a ten-pound weight a few times every day will move me toward my goal much quicker than hoisting a fifty-pound barbell once a week. Yes, it really is true: “Slow and steady wins the race.” Just try a little, every day. You’ll see. Most importantly, do not do what you cannot continue to deliver. For, remember, the world wants to see a continuity of delivery of  set standard.

4. Innovation is Not Only About New Ideas. Reminds me of Steve Jobs who gave a small private presentation about the iTunes Music Store to some independent record label people some time ago. My favorite line of the day was when people kept raising their hand saying, “Does it do x?”, “Do you plan to add y?”. Finally Jobs said, “Wait wait — put your hands down. Listen: I know you have a thousand ideas for all the cool features iTunes could have. So do we. But we don’t want a thousand features. That would be ugly. Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features. Exactly the mantra we follow in here at Blackhawk. In fact, I always know what I want. And when you know what you want–you go toward it. Sometimes you go very fast, and sometimes only an inch a year. Perhaps you feel happier when you go fast. I don’t know. I’ve though forgotten the difference long ago, because it really doesn’t matter, so long as you move with a laser like approach towards the critical path.

5. It’s OK to fail. Why? Because no matter how old you are now. You are never too young or too old for success or going after what you want. As Winston Churchill used to say: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”. At the  end of  the day, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people. So YES… You may encounter many defeats, but you must never be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

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