James Heaton @StartEvo – “Apparent failure focuses the mind!”

James Heaton, CEO Tronvig Group, a small but powerful New York creative agency, with very nice clients talks with us at StartEvo, to tell us the negative story of his life, that shaped his character. EXCELLENT STORY! Highly recommended!
Question: What has led to your success?

Probably the most valuable things that have happened to me were, first, when I was fired from my corporate job, and had to start a business on my own, forcing the question of not having a regular salary, not having benefits, not having anything to rely on but myself, and at the same time, having to support a family. I wasn’t very happy about it at the time, but it was definitely a gift in disguise. The second was my former business partner’s deciding to walk off and try to take all our clients. He was not successful taking all the clients, but he was successful ruining all the relationships that I had with our clients. So I was left with the debt and no clients.

Everyone’s expectation at that point was that it was over. But that opened up the opportunity to rethink the business, rethink how I was going to pull it out from a disaster, and make it into something that never would have been had that disaster not occurred. I remember thinking that day…”How on earth am I going to make it through this?” It took a couple of days to decide that there was no turning back. You either make it or you don’t. What are the steps that I need to take in order to survive, then what are the steps that I need to take in order to succeed, and then what are the steps that I need to take in order to prosper?

That situation forced me to focus very carefully on those decisions that needed to be made, and then forced that they be done. As a consequence of that, over the past number of years since then, I am now doing the work that I want to be doing, I’m doing the work that is closest to my heart and that is the most rewarding. I have the ability to not take on work that does not fit with my values system. I have also developed the absolute trust of my employees, and I have brought them in as collaborators. These are people who were with me when the disaster happened, when I was painted as being a failure and being evil. But the truth of the matter came out in the process that happened after that.

Apparent failure focuses the mind.

The story never ends until you die, so you’ve got to keep at it. You’ve got to keep writing it. The more adversity you face, the greater your own authorship. When there is no adversity other people write the script—other people create the story. When everything is against you, you must become the author of your own story. You must create your own future. There is tremendous power in that creative act of rebuilding from nothing.

If I think about many of the people that did great things, be it George Washington who was a financial failure, my distant relative, Buckminster Fuller who was a financial failure…that utter financial/personal disaster builds the kind of resilience and forces the kind of creative energy that you need to do something great.

This complacency and satisfaction with the way things are—with having other people decide things for you or provide for you—when all that is stripped away, and all you are left with is yourself and you own energy—your own creative effort—that is when great things are born and begin to happen.

Fear drives mediocraty. Fear creates mediocraty. Fear of failure—this is what keeps people down, because It can be used by employers, by authority figures. You are afraid to change things. You are afraid that it is not going to work. You are afraid the there’s is no way out of this situation. That is the power over you held by those who exercise control over your life. So maybe it’s not, but it seems almost essential that the worst things that you can possibly imagine happening, have to happen in order for that to be stripped away. “How much worse could it possibly get?” That’s a great place to be. That’s a perfect starting point. So I attribute what I am now and what I expect to become in business and in life to those disastrous situations that have happened.

I remember in high school when I was doing an application for something. I was asked, “Tell me about your biggest failure.” At the time I guess I was 16. I didn’t have a good answer for that question. I think everyone needs to have an answer to that question. It’s the greatest indication of your character and your ability and potential to know what you did when you failed—when the whole world collapsed around you.

Well, that’s the negative version of my story, but I think that’s a key aspect of it.

James Heaton

James Heaton