Do you have a Jiminy Cricket? I do—I actually have two. You know who (or should I say what) I mean, right? Jiminy is the dandy Disney cricket who, in his most famous role, sporting a top hat, tails, and white gloves, would appear out of the blue. He generally popped up whenever Pinocchio needed advice, rescuing, or just a dose of good old common sense. Jiminy had quite the repertoire, but if my memory serves me, his favorite piece of advice was: “Let your conscience be your guide.”
You don’t have to be a former marionette to know that’s good advice. We entrepreneurs and Pinocchio have some things in common. Pinocchio got into trouble because he wanted live life to the fullest in a new, unfamiliar world. He expected so much from his new life that he sometimes made bad choices. He trusted too easily. He was easily swayed to another’s point of view. He too often looked for easy answers. Sound familiar? Sometimes, when we’re in the midst of deal making (or deal breaking), innovating and exploring or just trying to make it through the tough times, it’s all too easy to make the wrong decisions.
To those on the outside, the toughest part of being an entrepreneur is actually getting started. I’ve heard too many (uninformed) people say, “Once you get past those first crucial months (or years), it’s all easy sledding from there.” Yeah, right. In actuality, the larger we grow and more successful we become, the bigger the challenges that crop up. And the more we need to heed the advice and counsel of others.
Or, to elevate this to a loftier plane, and to borrow from famed British author John Donne, no entrepreneur is an island. But, of course, that thought often goes against our nature. Some of us start businesses precisely because we want to be an island, to get away from the idiocies of others, to be responsible only to and for ourselves. We mistakenly think that is what entrepreneurship is all about: being responsible to no one but ourselves. Remember the entrepreneur-as-lone-wolf theory that dominated the early 1990s? Reality usually sets us straight, however.
Once we start a business, we discover we are responsible for our employees and responsible to our customers, clients, vendors, and suppliers. All this responsibility can be a tough burden to bear, which is why having our own Jiminy Cricket can be a life (or business) saver. Sometimes we need a Jiminy to help us come up with the right answers and solutions; other times we just need Jiminy to be a sounding board. Luckily, our Jiminy Crickets aren’t as rare as Pinocchio’s was. Whether it’s a friend, a former coworker, a relative, colleague, or classmate, the most important factor is trust and honesty. You have to trust that your Jiminy will listen and encourage, advise, and maybe even inspire. But they also have to be honest and forthright enough to tell us when we’re wrong.
It’s hard to have the confidence to allow people to tell us when we screw up. But, in order to succeed, we need people who will challenge us, make us work and think harder, and hold us accountable. Successful entrepreneurs are smart enough to know they don’t have all the answers. They’re self-assured enough to know that surrounding themselves with yes men won’t really help grow a business. And they’re savvy enough to know the key to success is striking the right balance between valuing the advice of others and trusting their own instincts. If you can do this, it’s more likely that, like Jiminy sings in his most famous song, you’ll see “your dreams come true.”