Stubbornness and Resiliency

Why default-resiliency is not the best option

I watched a recent This Week in Startups episode with Jason Calacanis and Jerry Colonna. It was the first one I’ve ever watched. I was kind of blown away. It was raw, powerful, and authentic. I ended up watching some of it twice. There’s a ton of great conversation in this piece, and one particular topic really stood out to me — the difference between stubbornness and resiliency. Taking a few weeks to internalize the points from that dialogue has been hugely beneficial. I wanted to share my thoughts on it.

In the dialogue, Jerry discusses conflating stubbornness with resiliency, and how it can be detrimental when you fail to distinguish them. He defines resiliency as the ‘ability to withstand the vagaries of every day life.’ Things are never going to happen exactly according to your plan. There will be deviations. Resiliency is the capacity to hang on and deal with the volatility of those deviations.

Jerry goes on to define stubbornness as the ‘capacity to not change your mind even when all evidence is to the contrary’ — stubbornness is continuing to do what you’re doing even if you’re suffering, without reflecting on the evidence.

The difference is subtle, and I agree with Jerry, the distinction is very important. Many people who have been through building a business or product from scratch will tell you that the process really is a roller-coaster. Many highs, and many lows — many instances of self-doubt and uncertainty, which require resiliency to persevere. Perseverance really just boils down to continuation despite obstacles. This can also be achieved via stubbornness.

“Are you being stubborn or are you being resilient?”

If I were to ask 100 entrepreneurs in a room the above question, what would the response be? I’m willing to put money on the results with confidence — I’m guessing most of you would too. In fact, it’s not even worth typing out what my guess would be, because I think we all know.

But how is that possible? How could everyone be resilient and no one be stubborn? Businesses fail all the time. There’s not a magic switch that goes between a state of resiliency and a state of failure with no in between. The path to failure has to be more like this (in a general respect):

Resiliency → Stubbornness → Failure

For entrepreneurs, it requires deep introspection in times of uncertainty to answer the question of whether you are being resilient or whether you are being stubborn. It’s also very difficult to conclude that you are being stubborn instead of resilient. Stubbornness has such negative connotations in our world, and resiliency has such positive connotations. In our world, resiliency is a heroic trait and stubbornness is cowardly — why would anyone self-identify as stubborn?

The line between resiliency and stubbornness is clearly fuzzy. It is dangerous to presume stubbornness instead of resiliency, because too many great ideas will die. Too many great products will not be made. As entrepreneurs, we already have this danger mitigated! We are default-resilient. We are not stubborn. It is also dangerous to presume resiliency instead of stubbornness. In some ways, self-identifying as stubborn is courageous — it allows you to move on and work on something better. Throwing in the towel during a state of stubbornness is okay.

There’s no roadmap for this introspection. It is deeply personal. Personally, I think a great first step is to acknowledge that self-identified resiliency is not always the best path forward.

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