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Moments Of Truth: How To Navigate Unexpected Events In Business And Life

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by Stan Rose, PhD, author of “Can’t Tame a Mongoose: Memoir of a Genomics Entrepreneur

I’m a longtime serial entrepreneur in biotech, specializing in DNA and genome analysis. I’m also a two-time kidney transplant recipient. These two sides of my life have gone hand in hand for the past two decades. In 2000, the first company I cofounded was acquired in a deal that returned over 10x to shareholders. Two years later, with no warning, I was diagnosed with a kidney-destroying genetic disease. I received a transplant thanks to a very generous friend and colleague who donated a kidney. After recovering I went on to lead multiple other companies to successful outcomes. Then, during the COVID19 pandemic, my donated kidney unexpectedly started to fail.

Facing an uncertain future yet again, I thought about what I wanted to leave behind, and that was wisdom. I could help rising entrepreneurs by sharing my knowledge. Many had asked me how I was able to succeed multiple times when 90% of new technology-based businesses fail in their first 5 years.

After much consideration I had an epiphany: one thing that really made a difference was how I dealt with unexpected events. While the nature of events that cause businesses to fail is well-catalogued, what’s underappreciated is how unanticipated events have an impact. They may not be expected, but they occur with enough frequency to be considered inevitable. In business and in life, they may be challenges and they may be opportunities, but they’re always a clear moment of truth.

There are certain values, skills, and approaches that, if practiced regularly, can increase the likelihood of navigating through these events to successful outcomes. Reflecting on my own experience, I realized that whether in business or in life, they work the same way. Just as a business is suddenly thrown into a crisis, so was I; in a short period of time, I had to decide which doctors to work with, find out where to have the transplant performed, and most importantly, find a donor.

Here’s what counted in that moment of truth:

1. Focus on Relationships.

Always keep building, tending to, and leveraging relationships. You never know whose talent, skill, possession, or network you may suddenly need. Stay proactive, resourceful, open to new ideas, and leave no stone unturned. To find a living kidney donor I cast a very wide net, from family to complete strangers. I tapped into my professional connections in healthcare, asking physicians to connect me with colleagues at hospital transplant programs. Even though my second kidney donor was a relative, it was many months before I knew that would be the case. While searching, I built relationships with multiple living donor advocacy groups.

2. Keep Considering Options.

Given the frequency with which businesses fail, it’s helpful to keep thinking of alternative paths forward, especially if an unexpected challenge arises, or a new opportunity emerges. Sometimes there is no way to know in advance which path will lead to a successful outcome. In the case of a kidney transplant, typically the source for a donated kidney is a complete unknown. Living donors must be compatible (at the blood type level), as well as suitable (meaning that the risk to themselves of donating one of their two kidneys is minimal). Kidneys may also be obtained from deceased donors, although the need far exceeds the supply. To increase the likelihood of receiving a deceased donor kidney, some patients are able to get into multiple transplant programs in different regions of the US. If none of these paths work out, dialysis can provide a bridge to buy more time.

3. Stay Persistent.

It’s easy to get down when an unexpected challenge emerges. Not only must you fight this resistance, you must also conduct your affairs with a sense of urgency and persistence (focused and determined, but not reckless). Things don’t always go as planned, so it’s key to learn from every setback and build up resilience. In the case of my transplant, I had developed a strong support network of family, friends, and physicians. As in business, I benefited from building strong teams of people with diverse perspectives and complementary skills. At some point actions needed to be taken to make my need more broadly known, so I engaged a professional marketing team with experience creating campaigns to raise awareness for those in need of kidney transplants.

3. Confidence is Key.

Handling these unexpected situations requires self-confidence, as well as confidence in your team, whether your business colleagues or, in the case of my transplant, the physicians, nurses, coordinators, and members of my personal support team. At one point, I got uncharacteristically down and reached out to a lifelong hero of mine for some words of inspiration. NBA legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier responded to my request for a pep talk. He and his partner Patricia have continued to support me.

No matter your intelligence, planning or vetting, unexpected events will happen. It’s inevitable – in business and life. How you respond in these moments of truth will often determine success or failure. Preparation is critical, as is practicing these skills. They can turn a moment of truth into a milestone in your personal or professional growth.

Stan Rose

Stan Rose, PhD is an MIT biologist turned life sciences executive and entrepreneur who has created and led multiple businesses in the emerging fields of DNA analysis and genomics. His firm, Rose Ventures, Inc., works with early-stage companies developing innovative, high-impact life science products and services. His new book is “Can’t Tame a Mongoose: Memoir of a Genomics Entrepreneur“. Learn more at roseventures.net.