Wishful thinking is the greatest enemy for startup ventures


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It has been said that in warfare the greatest enemy of victory is wishful thinking. The same can be said for today’s startup ventures.

In its most basic definition, wishful thinking stands for “believing in something because of a desire for it to be true.” This is a belief that ignores fact and, instead, relies on a premise that a desired conclusion will manifest. For entrepreneurs, “wishful thinking” is a bias toward a certain solution which leads to the overestimation of the evidence supporting that solution. It can also result in an underestimation of evidence that supports solutions other than the original desired solution.

Entrepreneurs are taught that being positive and looking on the bright side of things can overcome all obstacles. They are told that it’s all about the passion. This is a message that permeates the start-up community. In fact, entire industries have emerged to reinforce the notion that “it’s all in our head.” No mountain is too high to scale; no challenge too great to overcome. Various hucksters have taught us that if you can walk on red-hot coals, then anything can be accomplished.

However, the problem with all this positive thinking is that it may just have the opposite effect on start-ups and new ventures. Walking on hot coals may not kill you, but extrapolating from that experience to believe that wishful thinking can overcome business challenges is a recipe for disaster. It makes the entrepreneur focus only on accomplishing this one particular goal and encourages a “no-retreat” attitude where the correct response might just be to take a step back and look at the landscape for a better path to success. This flawed behavior is perhaps the quickest way to run a new venture into the ground.

Instead, entrepreneurs should keep this type of fervor away from the well-reasoned critical thinking that is necessary for success. They need to be able to recognize the ever-changing obstacles that can affect their fledgling idea or business. They need to view the myriad data available in an impartial manner so as to reinforce the validity of their current approach. They must be crystal clear so that when challenges arise, they can apply unbiased problem-solving techniques. They should also be willing to admit defeat and sometimes make radical decisions in order to survive. If one focuses on wishful thinking, one will rarely get past the stage of recognizing that a problem even exists.

Problems that go unchecked—even small ones needing a keen eye to recognize—can cause far more damage over a period of time than a larger one that flares up for a while. When you combine the inherent difficulty of identifying these small flare-ups with the bias of ignoring (or not hunting down) the evidence through wishful thinking, disaster awaits you.

Entrepreneurs need to always be cognizant of the negative consequences that can come with having a strong passion for their start-up venture. If this passion turns into a strong bias toward a particular solution, then this “wishful thinking” will lead to disastrous results.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


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