We all make mistakes.
Whether it’s a blunder at work or forgetting something at home, chances are you’ve had a day that didn’t go as planned.
That sinking sensation you feel when things have gone wrong? Learn to love it, says serial entrepreneur, corporate advisor, and IVY Thought Leader, George Swisher. A former ad agency executive who has founded five startups of his own, Swisher has experienced his fair share of errors and miscalculations — and now views them as essential learning opportunities.
“If someone wants to start a business,” Swisher says, “expect that every day for the first two years, shit is going to go wrong every day, all day long. That’s just the way it’s going to be, and you have to be comfortable in that.”
In an interview with IVY Magazine, Swisher laid out exactly how to get comfortable with making mistakes, providing advice for entrepreneurs looking to start businesses of their own — and, more generally, for people simply living their lives.
Get comfortable in your panic zone
Swisher co-founded his first startup in 2003, a full-service ad agency called SwisherBurgos. 15 years and four startups later, one fact has remained constant: don’t expect to get much sleep in the first two years of launching a business.
Swisher remembers waking up at 7 a.m. every day (he’s not a morning person) and putting his nose to the grindstone until 11 p.m. or midnight. In the early days, it was easy to get overwhelmed by the breakneck pace. But as he matured, Swisher learned how to get comfortable with the feeling of panic.
“Once you get comfortable, it doesn’t matter what comes at you,” Swisher says. “You’re able to move things off and maneuver. But if you’re like, ‘Oh, shit, what do I do?,’ you’re going to panic and everything else will ripple off of that. If you can prepare yourself for that, you can handle a lot of things at one time.”
Swisher’s advice? Adjust your expectations of what running a business entails. There will be chaos, and the successes will be hard-won. But amid all the disorder, you’re the one who’s calling the shots — and that’s the beauty of starting a company. The key is to embrace the chaos, know you’ll make mistakes, and learn how to take control in the difficult moments.
Mentors, mentors, mentors
Everyone can use a helping hand sometimes. Particularly in the world of business, leaders need guidance in order to adapt to new, unforeseen challenges.
For this reason, Swisher emphasizes the importance of nurturing relationships with mentors. “Find someone who’s willing to teach you business,” he says. “I don’t mean a CFO. I’m talking about a business owner, or someone in a position like the president of a company who’s responsible for marketing, sales, product, people. Someone who knows all the pieces that make it up. That, to me, will be your lifeline forever.”
Two decades into his career, Swisher still lives by this philosophy. His new company, LiiRN — an algorithm-based software that creates healthier company cultures — is counseled by a team of advisors composed of many of the mentors he picked up throughout his career. “They’re able to help me see things I can’t see.”
When you make a mistake, who are you going to fall back on? This very same network of mentors.
Be emotionally vulnerable
“We’re human beings: we have emotions,” says Swisher. “Allow people to express them and use them in ways that let people get closer, and that’s going to breed excellence all day long.”
This idea lives at the core of Swisher’s entrepreneurial ventures. He encourages his employees to be emotionally vulnerable — to drop their armor and let their true feelings freely flow. In doing so, people are can overcome their fear of judgment and make mistakes, which is the environment in which creativity truly thrives.
“Let people be humans. They’re going to make mistakes.”
This is the second article in a series of interviews with George Swisher about the changing nature of work. Read the first article, Leveraging Data and Human Emotion to Create a Healthier Workforce, to learn more.