I went to a brew-pub today with my family. We sat down, we got menus, ordered and then – we waited, and waited. As I was sitting there I thought about patience – is it a vice or a virtue?
It is obvious from our everyday lives that patience is needed. We need patience to drive to work safely, to explain, to motivate, and to allow people to learn. Our friends and family need patience with us, we often forget that. It is a lot easier for us to remember when we wait for somebody than when the opposite situation occurs and our friend is on their second drink by the time we finally show up. Almost everything that is important takes patience – our friendships, our family, our personal growth and compassion – and even the stock market. Clearly, patience is a virtue.
But, I have been increasingly convinced that patience can also be a vice when it comes to entrepreneurship. In fact, I have seen more entrepreneurial efforts fail because of too much patience, than I have seen them fail because of too little patience. Entrepreneurial success requires a sense of urgency, a commitment to get started now and to put scores on the board, now. I have seen great ideas squandered because their originators got distracted. Often, they talk about how it takes patience to get to the goals. I totally disagree in many cases: what are you waiting for? It takes a healthy impatience to start running when everybody else still walks or sits around. For entrepreneurs, patience can be a vice.
Patience is a crucial aspect of a successful academic life that can become a real problem for university-based entrepreneurs. In fact, patience is one of the most important aspects of fundamental research: MESSENGER, a NASA spacecraft carrying a Michigan-built instrument, (FIPS) is flying by Mercury in approximately one week. MESSENGER will get into orbit around Mercury in 2011. This is a project I have worked on for over ten years – and just now are we getting the long-awaited results back. I have been there from the beginning – I was a lot younger then. Such long time-scales are not uncommon in research; we can provide many examples.
I consider that tension between the time-scale of research and the time-scale of entrepreneurship to be one of the most important challenges we have to overcome as we are developing into a research organization that is supportive of entrepreneurship. The speed of entrepreneurship is faster than, for most of us, the speed of academic research. The challenge we are facing as a University, and especially the challenge that I am facing, is to address mismatches of our work and support systems in which patience is a vice, with the potential to kill the very thing we want to support: entrepreneurship. We have to be sure that the University of Michigan can deal with the healthy impatience of entrepreneurs. There is nothing wrong with that!
After waiting for over 30 minutes for my sandwich, the food finally came. The nachos were soggy, the burger burnt. I am glad we were patient waiting for the food and staying friendly. But, patience was a vice for the staff of this brew-pub: I will not go back there in a long time.