In a recent post, I give you a flavor for Rich Cohen’s wonderful book The Fish That Ate the Whale. One of the things that struck me in reading his book was the psychology of entrepreneurial success. It is often difficult to be a superstar entrepreneur if you are realistic. Often the biggest successes in business are people willing to take ridiculous risks. Cohen captures that well: “There are times when certain cards sit unclaimed in the common pile, when certain properties become available that will never be available again. A good businessman feels these moments like a fall in the barometric pressure. A great businessman is dumb enough to act on them even when he cannot afford to.”
At one point, Zemurray borrows money from some shady characters to pay off his business partner. Cohen summarized the situation: “What was Sam thinking, piling debt on debt, risk on risk? By buying out Hubbard, he was taking it all on his own shoulders. But what did it matter? If he failed by himself, he would lose the exact same amount as if he failed with a partner: everything.”
And sometimes, great business people have an intuitive grasp of social psychology that exceeds that of most PhD students. Take this description of how he negotiated with the folks from United Fruit, before he took over the company: “According to friends, Sam was a sharp trader who knew the price goes to he who does not lose his head or open his mouth too soon. What cannot be accomplished by threats can often be achieved by composure. Sit and stare and let your opponent fill the silence with his own demons.”
And then finally, there is the important ingredient of never being satisfied. As Cohen summarizes it: “Show me a happy man and I will show you a man who is getting nothing accomplished in this world.”
That thought makes me miserable.