ENT (601) – EGO IS THE ENEMY

Holiday, R. (2016). Ego is the Enemy: Penguin.
Holiday, R. (2016). Ego is the Enemy: Penguin.

“MY OPPONENT IS MY TEACHER. MY EGO IS MY ENEMY.”

— RENZO GRACIE

ENT (601) – EGO IS THE ENEMY

In his book Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday breaks down different aspects of Ego and offers a comparison between individuals who let their ego define who they are and others who learned to control it effectively, for the greater good. An interesting concept is that he defines, and uses, the term “ego” in the colloquial sense rather than “ego/egoism” as a medical term used in a clinical setting (Holiday, R. (2016)). As such, the ego defined throughout this book, as it applies to the Entrepreneurs, is referred to as arrogance or self-centered ambition, and an unhealthy belief in our own importance (Holiday, R. (2016)).

As we see in the world around us, many entrepreneurs with a great product or service idea end up driving it to dust shortly after its birth. There are many factors that contribute to the failure of small businesses in such large quantities. Most notable factors include lack of funding, inability to hire, train, and assemble the right team, marketing, and lack of need for the products & services (Mansfield, Matt (2019)).  On the flip side, the small businesses that do succeed are responsible for producing most of the new jobs in the economy. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) [1]report from 2012, small firms accounted for 64 percent of jobs created between 1993 and 2011. The trend was expected to continue through 2018.

With so much potential and available market share, wouldn’t the new entrepreneurs and small business owners realize the benefits of a successful venture? According to Smallbiztrends article of “Startup Statistics”, the numbers show quite the opposite; only about 18 percent of the first-time entrepreneurs succeed, and 44 percent of these can’t stay alive past the 5-year mark (Mansfield, Matt (2019)).

The question is why?

If we apply Ego in the sense in which Ryan Holiday defined it, we can deduct the conclusion that ego plays a big part in the aforementioned factors. For example, the ego can play a big role in funding and the inability to hire the right people. If the Entrepreneur does not consult with the appropriate SMEs in finance industry (the lenders & bankers) one could easily fall into the trap of self-worth (ability to self-fund) and end up not having enough funds to produce the product, offer the service, purchase/lease the necessary machines, hire and train labor, and market the product/service accordingly. As the author eloquently described, if ego is the voice that tells us we’re better than we really are, we can say ego inhibits true success by preventing a direct and honest connection to the world around us (Holiday, R (2016)).

Furthermore, if we carefully examine the examples of some of the most influential individuals from recent history, we can see how ego made them fail or helped them succeed in various aspects of their lives. Take as an example a young United States military officer name William Tecumseh Sherman, who became one of the greatest generals and strategic thinkers this country has seen. However, regardless of the influence, he had on the outcome of the Civil War, and the strategies he put in place to defeat the Union army when offered the presidency of the United States, Sherman refused (Holiday, R (2016)). He knew his worth and appreciated the opportunity to serve the country in the best possible manner he could and eventually became the most loved man in America by the end of the war, without ever running for public office or getting involved in the political arena (Holiday, R (2016)).

We can all learn a valuable lesson from the respected William Sherman and work on suppressing our inner desires to let ego and aspiration pave the path for us by controlling our ego and doing our part in making the world a better place for everyone, even if we don’t get any credit or recognition for it.

References:

Holiday, R. (2016). Ego is the Enemy: Penguin.

Mansfield, Matt (2019, March 28). Startup Statistics – The Numbers You Need to Know. [Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://smallbiztrends.com/2019/03/startup-statistics-small-business.html

[1] https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/FAQ_Sept_2012.pdf

13 Comments

  1. Semir,
    You provided an interesting comparison with the term “ego.” In reality “ego” is considered to be a form of arrogance and self-centeredness. As you mentioned, the important factor is being able to control your “ego.” Often times, in the work world people believe that VP’s have a self-centered “ego. Little do people realize VP’s are excellent people who really are not “self-centered,” it’s the way that those individuals carry themselves and are perceived by others completely wrong. As entrepreneurs we can’t let our “ego” control us we must use our “ego” to improve our self-confidence and earn self-respect from others. With regard to small businesses those individuals are too quick to want to start the business immediately. Prior to starting a small business, we must spend time figuring out the foundation before we can build upon that concept. Coming up with an idea for a small business is not enough, we must have a plan set into action that describes every detail as to who and what is needed and have a plan that describes any potential problems that may be encountered and how to handle those problems. Having and knowing the right resources will also make a huge difference that determines the success of a small business. We should always strive to help others and not just for personal gain. Excellent post!

    1. Hi Audrey,
      Thank you for your feedback. You’re absolutely correct about the notion and perception that people have of VPs, CEOs, etc.. Most of the executives are truly humble and considerate folks, but they have a standard to work/live by. They need to be professional at everything they do, from foreign investor meetings to playing golf with peers. In my opinion, the people that work in an environment where they could run into the executives in a hallway or an elevator seem to formulate their own opinions of such individuals solely on looks or an overheard 5-second conversation. Rather than doing so, they should get to know them, even if it is only 1 time per week in an elevator. You can learn a lot from a person in a few minutes of personal interaction.

      Best regards,

  2. Hi, Semir,

    I really enjoyed your blog post on Ego Is The Enemy. A few points that I enjoyed, in particular:

    1. While many of your readers will likely be familiar with the propensity for failure in start-ups or small businesses, I appreciate you examining the reasons from a new perspective. In my experience, the reasons you cite such as “lack of funding, inability to hire”, etc. are almost built-in excuses when failure occurs. Our human ego refuses to let us acknowledge that it may have been our own failing, and in some case even our own ego, that led to the fall. The quote you use framing ego as “the voice that tells us we’re better than we really are…” articulates your argument quite well.

    2. I was struck by your example of General Sherman, particularly, “he knew his worth and appreciated the opportunity to serve his country. My first profession was basketball coach, and I learned a great deal about many things, ego included. What I came to find over a period of years was that all great players shared a similar trait: they understood what they were good at, and more importantly, what they were not. Great players weren’t skilled in all facets of the game – they just knew how to put themselves in a position to maximize their strengths and hide their deficiencies. Meanwhile, the players that “would get you beat” in coaching lingo, weren’t lacking in talent. Often times, they were extremely talented, but they didn’t understand what made them good, or why. And to me, that all comes back to ego and the importance of knowing your worth in any given situation, like General Sherman.

    3. “Doing our part to make the world a better place for everyone, even if we don’t get any credit or recognition for doing it.” Bravo – I love this. As I mentioned in an interview for this class, I subscribe to the belief that society thrives “when people are willing to plant trees, under whose shade they never expect to sit”. (Nelson Henderson and the ancient Greeks are alternately credited with this original thought.

    Congrats on a great Week 2 post. I enjoy reading more of your work.

    1. Hello, Trip:

      Thank you very much for the thorough, constructive feedback.

      When I started researching this topic and reading the book it was difficult to decide which “points” to discuss on the blog, and where to begin. The book is great. It provides many examples and it demonstrates the pros and cons of each topic (the ego is only the tip of the iceberg) and how, historically, it made people great and memorable or it ruined their reputation. The example of General Sherman was one of my favorites, especially the comparison of Gen. Sherman’s attitude towards success versus Napoleon’s views.

      I’m glad you have experience in sports and coaching. Sport is one arena where ego flies high for sure. However, when doing our part to make the world a better place for everyone, it humbles us. It’s not at all uncommon to hear of some of the greatest players (in any sport) doing phenomenal community work and helping others, because outside of the ball game they recognize what’s important.

      I have been involved in competitive sport for the past 17 years (I love soccer), and I have a winning attitude. However, I learned over the years, from many different coaches that the winning attitude and egoism are quite different. I’ve learned to be competitive but yet humble, and enjoy the game. We have beat many teams who had more skillful individuals than us, but collectively they had no chemistry and team play; yet, we lost to teams who we expected to beat easily because we approached the game with the wrong attitude.

      Thanks again! I look forward to reading your book reviews and weekly reflections.

  3. Semir, Great post and I love the layout of your site! It reminds me of a topic in a previous course (Entrepreneurial Planning). The idea of “social equity” did not make sense to me at first. After completing various projects and research, I found out that successful entrepreneurs usually possessed it! Successfully scaling a business requires others to be involved. Whether it be because of lack of expertise in a functional area, lack of funding, or some other reason, it is necessary to give up some control for an idea to reach its true potential. To your point, an entrepreneur should forget about their ego and focus on what needs to be done for the world to know about their creation!

    Best regards,
    Mike Weimar

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Mike!
      To your point, we, as entrepreneurs need to get a good handle on ‘ego’ and differentiate ego and self-confidence and courage. The latter is a must-have in order to succeed. We should be able to reach out to the right people and have the self-confidence in our ability to properly pitch the product/service we represent. Otherwise, it would be counterproductive.

      -Semir

  4. Hi Semir,

    I am a fellow classmate also enrolled in ENT 601! This is my first time viewing your blog, and I must say you’ve done a great job.

    You have provided a clear and detailed review of your book of choice. I especially like that you included the real life example of William Sherman. As you mentioned, it can be difficult for an entrepreneur to check their ego at the door. This choice can either benefit them or lead to their detriment. It is definitely a sentiment that should often be re-evaluated as we entrepreneurs navigate through our individual journeys. Thanks for sharing!

    Best,
    Shay

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Shay! Thank you for the great feedback. Collectively we can achieve great things.

  5. I’ve struggled with managing ego my entire life; 33 years on and I’m still learning new techniques. For examples of how it still creeps into my professional life, see my article on the Learning Community in my blog (https://advancementdaily.com/a-lesson-in-the-learning-community-model-rather-an-example-of-the-traditional-models-failure/). Your post has inspired me to read this book in its entirety. The examples you cited and your commentary are great insights into the power of ego to impact a person or company both negatively and positively.

    1. Jonathan,
      Thank you for constructive feedback. I would highly recommend the book. The author broke it down into three parts and what I reviewed here was a portion of part one. It is very informative and deserves a thorough analysis. I think you’ll enjoy it.

  6. Your book selection is very interesting. The concept of ego is one that I have struggled with before (and am probably still struggling with). Having the ability to separate your inner self-worth and work towards a larger success within an organization is difficult to achieve. In our current climate of social individualism, it becomes even harder to make that disconnect. But I agree with you that by doing so, not only are you setting yourself up for success, but you are also allowing success to come to others. We get caught up in the rat race of trying to prove how good we are, and we often get tunnel vision in the process. It is easy to loose sight of the greater goals. But if we are to ever truly transcend, we must do just that. It is even more important with a new business. We can’t be the greatest at every level of business. We need to remember to surround ourselves with people who excel at what they do, and remember to give them the flexibility they need to succeed. The self-funded model that you mentioned is a great example of this. Not all of us have the ability to manage finances enough to be able to sustain a self-funding model to keep a company afloat for five years. Taking some time and working with SMEs allows us to gain more knowledge and experience that can then translate to a much broader success for the business in the long-haul.

  7. Being able to control ones ego is a difficult task especially when you want to rise higher in your ranks. Sometime it’s better to stay where you know it is best suited for you and for the business. I have read of situations where the created of a company will stay in a lower position and hire a CEO so that they can focus on the inner working of their business more than having a large title. Interesting topic!
    -Marie

  8. Hi Semir,
    I wish that I would have picked this book. I could not agree more with your summary. Twenty years into my business, you may wonder how I beat the odds. I received my Associates degree in Business Management in 1999. My last class was Small Business Management. The statistics were the same, small businesses seldom last over five years. Ego is an important word to me. I never let my ego refuse to take out the garbage, clean the store, carry a customers groceries out, or treat any customer with anything less that kindness. My ego never treated an employee badly or ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do. Staying humble and working very hard is my secret to staying open. I can’t wait to hear more about your book.

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