Resilience Required: “CRAP” Is Necessary to Blossom as the Successful Majority Owner of a Private Company

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Private company owners strive for success but getting there is not an easy or straight path. I have been working closely with business owners now for more than 40 years, and I have been reflecting on the key character traits shared by successful entrepreneurs. These views are not based on peer-reviewed research but are gleaned from my vantage point as outside counsel.  The most significant traits that I believe help to determine success in business amount to CRAP: courage, resilience, adaptability and persistence. There is one more important letter – F – and I will share thoughts at the end about that one, as well. 

Courage Is Not Fearlessness, It’s Taking Action Despite the Potential for Failure

We all fail at times. There are no exceptions. Some failures are bigger than others. But what distinguishes successful business owners from those who fall short is their willingness to keep trying despite the risk of failure. The mindset of remaining unbowed when failure results is critical in seeking success. Many have given voice to this view. 

Thomas Edison: Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.

J.K. Rowling: It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

Michael Jordan: I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.

In sports, two of my favorite facts are that players miss all the shots they don’t take, and a major league hitter who fails seven out of 10 times has a batting average of at least .300, which is often good enough for him to be installed in the Hall of Fame.   

Given the inevitability of failure at some point, successful business owners do two things.  First, they don’t shy away from pursuing challenges even though they know their business efforts may not succeed. Second, and just as importantly, they learn from their mistakes so that they are able to improve as they move forward in the business. It is human nature to dwell more on our mistakes than our successes, but business owners who succeed don’t let their failures stop them from taking another shot, which is how they keep pushing ahead to achieve lasting success.

Resilience – Failure Is Common, but Far from Fatal

Fortunately, failure in business is almost never fatal. In fact, failure can have some positive consequences. When viewed from a more objective lens, failure can spur motivation, provide enlightenment about what was not working, and open the door to new possibilities that had not previously been explored or adopted. Failure leads to change, which may be what is required for the business to succeed. 

NYU Stern School of Business Prof. Scott Galloway is a highly successful, serial entrepreneur and author, who has started eight to nine businesses, but at least one of which was a failure. In his book, The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love, and Meaning, he notes that “Success is a function of your resilience over failure.” He has counseled business owners on his podcast that:

You will know failure. The key is to learn from it, be upset, that’s natural. But +then get up, dust your pants off and move on.

It’s your ability to process things and then move on and not anchor off of disappointment that is key to success. In other words, you need to keep on keeping on. Failure and barriers are part of it.

The owner’s ability to demonstrate resilience is important not only for the owner, but for the entire management team, who look to the owner to set the tone for the company. If the owner shows resilience when confronted by failure, that will also motivate others. Leaders who show resilience in response to failure inspire their teams, create greater levels of commitment, and build powerful momentum toward a common goal. 

Adaptability – Be Strong Like the Oak, but Bend Like the Willow

Our paths in life are rarely straight, which is one of the reasons that life is so rewarding. Changing course can make a huge, positive difference, whether that is by changing schools, academic majors, careers, locations or business goals. We are all familiar with businesses that became more successful when they changed their focus. These include:

  • Apple was a computer maker, but achieved unprecedented global success when it pivoted its focus to the creation and sale of the iPhone.
  • Uber started out as a black car private service only to become the behemoth it is today when it changed its business model to providing drivers for everyone.
  • Amazon began as an online bookseller before morphing into a globally dominant online retailer of innumerable products.

Where a business starts is often not where it needs to go to realize its full potential, and the willingness to pivot to pursue a more profitable opportunity is what sets successful business owners apart. They are flexible, they are adaptable, and they are not afraid to make the changes that may be necessary to transition to a different business model, product or service that allows them to achieve a much greater level of success.  

Persistence – If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It

This may be the most obvious trait. It is no surprise to learn that hard work and grit are essential to success. Two more quotes from Thomas Edison sum this up well: 

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

The rewards of achieving success in business are likely worth the devotion required, but they cannot be obtained without a tremendous amount of effort and dedication.    

Forgiveness – The Antidote to Harmful Self-Criticism

The final addition to the four CRAP attributes is the ability to forgive oneself. In my experience, business owners are some of the most self-critical people on the planet. They have a tendency to accept all of the blame when things don’t go well but find it hard to take credit when their companies achieve success. The “imposter syndrome” is both real and debilitating.

Those owners who can both achieve and enjoy their success engage in self-forgiveness. They do not shrug off their mistakes, but they do not continue to berate themselves over any of the errors they made. As Prof. Galloway has said, they move on.  

Harboring on one’s own mistakes is not just counterproductive, it is self-destructive. The research bears this out. The Scope blog, published by the Stanford Medical School, reports:

Research has shown that those who practice self-forgiveness have better mental and emotional well-being, more positive attitudes and healthier relationships. A related outcome ties self-compassion with higher levels of success, productivity and concentration.

According to Carole Pertofsky, MEd director emerita of student wellness services, “Self-forgiving people recognize that a lack of self-forgiveness leads to suffering. They are kind to themselves, which reduces their anxiety and related depression.” In comparison, those who are highly critical of themselves are more likely to experience significant negativity, stress and pessimism.


Business owners face daunting challenges. They will undoubtedly confront failure, and success is often elusive. If they have the traits discussed here that amount to CRAP, however, and if they are able to forgive themselves for all of the errors they make along the way, they may find the success that awaits them was worth all of their struggle to achieve it.