Why are entrepreneurs like rugby players? Because they keep on trying.

For March’s edition of Think Enterprise, the IOEE’s monthly newsletter, we interviewed IOEE Fellow Paul Boross. As well as being a respected authority on the art of excellent enterprise communications and someone who has worked with high street banks, household-name media corporations and leading broadsheets, Paul is ‘The Pitch Doctor.’ This role sees him travel the world sharing his expertise on “the art and science of persuasion.” You may also recognise Paul thanks to his regular TV appearances on popular Sky TV show School of Hard Knocks, in which he features as both psychologist and presenter. Here, blogging exclusively for the IOEE, Paul draws out an interesting analogy on why rugby players have lots in common with entrepreneurs.

Sky TV’s series ‘School of Hard Knocks’ has been running for a few years now, taking the game of rugby to disadvantaged young men all over the UK. In each series, the same patterns and stories play out – born on the wrong side of the tracks, dropped out of school, fell in with the wrong crowd, made too many mistakes to turn back. Those stories might be familiar, because we all have more in common than we think. You might also recognise that this is the way that most entrepreneurs’ autobiographies start. Is your life story an excuse for failure, or is it the springboard for your success?

Maybe this is what makes an entrepreneur – when everyone else is saying, “I can’t do that because…”, the entrepreneur has the courage to say, “I’ll prove them wrong.”

The resilience of the lads who take part in the show is astonishing. Darren in Glasgow had, on two separate occasions, been stabbed in his back. He had a tattoo put between the stab wounds which said, ‘better luck next time’, which tells you a lot about the attitude you sometimes need to survive as an entrepreneur. Of course, one of the misconceptions is that the entrepreneur is some kind of lone wolf, a solitary animal who relies on no-one. You cannot be successful by yourself, and even if you’re self-employed you need clients, suppliers, partners; a team around you. Your success depends on learning to trust and rely on these people, and letting them rely on you. Jason Leonard, the former England Rugby Captain, told us:

“Everything in a scrummage is ultimately team work because you are turning ‘round and saying to your mate, I am with you, I won’t let you down. I can look someone in the eye and say I am right beside you – that is what a scrum is all about.”

You don’t have to be strong or tough to run a business. You just need to make the decision to carry on. One of our young men said that he couldn’t turn his life around because, “I ain’t got the mental strength.” Whether you’re resisting the wrong choices in life, or one more late night at the office, it’s nothing to do with strength. If you’ve got good people around you, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Bad things happen to everyone. Businesses fail and sometimes ‘serial entrepreneurs’ get a bad reputation, as if getting up and trying again is somehow a bad thing. Maybe it’s not very ‘English’ –  you should know when you’re beaten. The most successful entrepreneurs know that they can never be beaten, they can only give up. The people who achieve genuine, lasting success, are the people who take life’s events and choose to see them in a positive way. For example, Michael Henderson, captain of the School of Hard Knocks Croydon team, told the players, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Is it true? It doesn’t matter – it’s an attitude.

Mark Prince was one of our guests, a former boxing champion, who tragically lost his son to knife crime and became a campaigner for knife safety. He told our young men, “life can bang you up. What are you going to do? Are you going to throw in the towel? Are you going to cut your wrists? Are you going to drink yourself into a stupor? You need to remember that you’re still living, you’ve still got life, if I can do it then anybody can.”

I’ve heard many entrepreneurs complain about things in their own businesses; maybe their customers, or their staff, or even their processes and procedures. Well, if something’s not right in your business, you can change it! Even for giant corporations with policies ‘set in stone’, those policies were still written by someone and can just as easily be changed, if the desire is there. Sammy is one of the young men who really turned his life around following his time in the School of Hard Knocks. He said, “It’s more than what you think it is, it’s not just rugby, it’s life, you can change whatever you want to do in your life and the amazing thing is how quickly you can change it just like that, with a click of the finger. If you stay positive and stay strong, the future is bright.”

Communication is one of the things that makes us successful as a species. In rugby, if you don’t communicate you get hurt, it’s as simple as that. You might have an idea about where you’re heading, but if you don’t communicate your intentions, you either get left behind or trampled on. Communication is the fabric of team work, and one of the most valuable lessons that I’ve learned is that we’re always communicating, whether we think so or not. If you retreat into yourself under pressure, you’re communicating that you’re not there for your team. If you lose your temper, you’re communicating your frustrations and putting pressure on your team, which compounds the problem that you’re trying to solve.

On the other hand, since you’re always communicating, you can choose what you want others to see and hear, not just in the words that you choose but in the way you move, the way you act, the way you react. All of these non-verbal communications form the impression that other people create of you, so if you really mean business and, if you really want to create something special, have that intention at the front of your mind every day, and that intention will create communication and relationships that you couldn’t imagine.

I hope these few lessons that I’ve learned at the School of Hard Knocks help you in your own business. Just remember the most important message of all – that you can never fail, you can only give up.

Keep on trying!

Paul Boross is “The Pitch Doctor”, an internationally recognised authority on communications, presentation, performance and “the art and science of persuasion”, and appears regularly on worldwide conference programmes, at international television and media events and in feature articles. Paul has worked with many executives in a range of organisations such as the BBC, Google, The Financial Times, Barclays and MTV, as well as public figures such as Sir Richard Branson, Ainsley Harriott and Sky newscaster, Dermot Murnaghan. Paul is the resident team psychologist and presenter on the on-going SKY TV series School of Hard Knocks. The new series of SOHK starts on 4th May at 10PM on Sky Sports 1 and is repeated on Sky One.

Paul has now authored three books; The Pitching Bible, The Pocket Pitching Bible and Pitch Up! Visit www.thepitchdoctor.tv to learn more.