What do you and Sonic the Hedgehog have in common?

Sonic and his rings
Sonic and his rings

Have you ever played Sonic the hedgehog? Man, what a classic! The objective: Get your hedgehog, named Sonic, to jump, run and even roll through a stage, avoiding the array of animal-ish enemies, only to reach a guarded exit, protected by your arch nemesis, Dr. Evil. Beat him and the entrance to the next level is opened. Keep this up, level after level, enemy after enemy, and you will win the game. — But wait there’s more! If you are attacked without a collection of magical “rings” in your possession, you will die. With one or more rings you can narrowly avoid death by attack.

So which was more important, getting to the next level, or acquiring the rings? Well, any kid would tell you: Duh, both! Obvi. If you only collect the rings you may never get to the end of the level. Alternatively, if you only try to get to the end of the level, rendering yourself ringless, you dramatically decrease your chances of survival.

Of course, one could play the perfect game, dodging all would be attackers, and avoiding falling off cliffs to a spikey-floored doom. By doing so you would indeed win the game, just as anyone else. But who could make it through all those levels without one misstep, one slipped finger, or distracted moment when your Mom calls you down for dinner? I’m going to take a stab at it and say — not a single person. So, thanks to those gracious creators at Sega, you were given those wonderfully magic rings, giving you a fighting chance. You and everyone else jumped at the opportunity, capturing as many rings as you could. You mitigated risk, balanced your options, and grabbed on to what ever you could, outside of the clearly laid goal of completing the level, to of course do just that, complete the level and win the game; achieve success.

That is not a theme reserved for just hedgehogs named Sonic, or any game for that matter. Success is a goal some of us can see, and once we see it, we direct our focus directly at achieving it. But it is often that deterministic direction that creates a far more subtle misdirection.

Nine out of ten startups fail, right? I bet most of them are hard workers and/or have great ideas and/or have a focus and/or goals. A major hurdle to overcome, one that is far less obvious then the cliche advice to work harder/smarter, and the basis for why so many startup fall victim to those one-in-ten odds, is that it is the very focus on the goal that can cause the unbalance in your business, and ironically dooms your chances in achieving it.

Success may live on a straight-line, but the line seen is not necessarily the path to take. The best path is almost always one that dances around the line formed. Looking away, towards an entirely different direction, can reveal a path with far less hurdles when the focus is returned to the goals directive. You must let something go in order to truly have it — a cliché theme that works in almost any environment, and often takes a lifetime to master. Simply put, our “rings” come in the form of friendships, support systems, a passion for what you do, mistakes that need to be made, failures to learn from, vacations to escape to, and random ideas that inspire. When we remember to grab onto those rings when the opportunity to do so arises, or even sometimes when it doesn’t seem like it can, we will be far more able to last the “attacks” the startup game will inevitably throw our way.

So my fellow hedgehogs, should you grab at all the rings you can, even if at times by doing so you are unable to race towards the goal? Most definitely! Any kid who had a sega will tell you: you have to do both. Duh! Obvi.