4 Ways Great Minds Address Adversity

Don’t bemoan a streak of bad luck: harness it. Fate dealt these fledgling businesses a bad hand, but their mentalities carried them through to ultimate success.


1. They Throw Out Other People’s Formulas For Success

“We went into business thinking we needed to produce the same types of beers that the craft industry was full of at that point. What we started to realize was that what we were doing, the beers we were making, we weren’t even that proud of.”


— Mike Stevens, CEO of Founders Brewing Company, in an interview with Inc. Magazine


In its early years, a lack of innovation had left Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company with a hard choice: raise more than $500,000 in one week or face bankruptcy.

Fueled by passion, instinct, and a healthy dose of desperation, the company switched gears in its final 168 hours of existence, created several experimental flavor combinations like double chocolate coffee oatmeal stout, and convinced a lone investor to cover the company’s entire banknote.

2. They Don’t Accept Their Current Limitations 

“We must avoid problems which befall large corporations. The reconstruction of Japan depends on the development of dynamic technologies.”


— Masaru Ibuka, founder and chief advisor of Sony Corporation, as recorded in company documents


Sony might be a dominant name in electronics, film, and music now, but it began in the humblest of conditions — the ruins of post-WWII Tokyo.

Engineers at the small company initially relied on handmade tools — including screwdrivers made from old motorcycle springs — and salvaged consumer and military goods to manufacture small, practical electric items such as rice cookers and seat warmers for the recovering city’s residents. A few years later, the company experienced its first real taste of success via the creation of a line of tape recorders.

3. They Believe In Effort Ad Nauseum

“By the time I made my 15th prototype, my third child was born. By 2,627, my wife and I were really counting our pennies. By 3,727, my wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash.”


— Sir James Dyson, founder of the Dyson vacuum company, in an interview with Wired


Sir James Dyson took the “if at first you don’t succeed” mentality to extreme lengths when he spent a reported 15 years burning through 5,127 different prototypes trying to create a bagless vacuum cleaner. He finally reached success with No. 5,128, and Dyson the brand now enjoys significant international recognition while Dyson the man enjoys a personal net worth of more than $4 billion.

4. They Keep All Obstacles In Perspective

“The currency of exchange in FedEx was just money, it wasn’t people’s arms and legs, or lives. So […] I was willing to take a chance, because losing wasn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen to you. I had seen that very clearly.”


— Frederick W. Smith, founder of FedEx, in an interview with the Academy of Achievement


The U.S. Post Office might brag about tackling snow, rain, heat, and the gloom of night, but those pale in the face of the challenges that FedEx and its founder Frederick W. Smith have encountered. Notable examples include:

  • In college, Smith received a near-failing grade from a professor for his initial idea for the shipping company.
  • Smith survived an enemy ambush during his service in the Vietnam War.
  • Smith snatched a fledgling FedEx just from the jaws of insolvency with a $27,000 blackjack win.
  • During the start of the Great Recession, FedEx suffered a drop in annual profits that exceeded 95%.