The role of self-deception in entrepreneurship

How many times have you heard “you got to be crazy to start a new venture out of that idea”, and later see how some are able transform what many see as stupid into genius, by not letting themselves see the perils along the way.

Is like you got to train yourself to be foolish enough to try something that half of people see, as is before you are embark to change it: simply stupid. The other half might see it your way, and that’s encouraging, but not helping in allowing for reality to creep in, and sometimes rightfully prevent, the exposure to great risks or just simply the losing of precious time.

Self-deception could be explained, as a belief known to be untrue that by the practice of being told in a desired way becomes what we desired, fooling us into thinking that it has been our only way of seeing the matter in question from the beginning. We transform our beliefs from what they, at a certain point, are, to what we want them to be. Like when testing a software we are finally closer to releasing to market, the testers are involved, and they are seen as guilty for dragging the process along, not because the product being of low quality and having too many bugs to start with; or, when the kid selling lemonade in a hot summer day say to himself that the bad weather will actually attract more clients rather than spoil the day, as they have to concentrate to avoid the rain, bypassing altogether the fact that people might just stay at home. Reality is difficult to confront, when we have built so many beliefs in the alternative.

In Steve Jobs biography, and many of the interviews with people close to him, we heard the anecdote of “a reality distortion field” or his capacity to convince and change the beliefs of an individual or group of people who something was possible, although it most certainly wasn’t. Is the same with other many great entrepreneurship stories where, after the fact, we rationalize success as being available but unseen, only to be tapped by a visionary or somebody with almost “superpowers” to make things happen. In reality, behind of these innovation stories, there are variations of the following process: a) entrepreneur falls into self-deception commits into risks and time on a venture that might lead nowhere, b) after some time with no success and with so much at stake including a close possibility of failure, he finally listens to the people who has been advising against the venture from the beginning, and c) thanks to the knowledge gained from adversaries and the realization of an almost failed initial venture, the entrepreneur is capable of turning the venture into something completely different from the original, and now with a chance of being successful, or d) just simply close the venture, accept defeat and move on to the next one with a clearer perspective of the risks involved — and in the ideal cases a better knowledge of himself and the thinking that got him involved in the first place.

One wonders, if self-deception is necessary to carry own ventures in entrepreneurship that for the majority, or before the fact, are just plain foolish.

“Stay Hungry, stay foolish” those were the words how Steve Jobs ended the famous Stanford commencement speech in 2005. Maybe, the hungry part of the phrase was intended to highlight a mechanism where foolishness will most likely take you to places where you will need all of your success hunger not to just give up and abdicate on your innovation dream. Maybe, he put the two concepts in a phrase because only in combination they have a chance to unlock what seemed to be stupid ideas into inventions that can transform the world. Thomas Edison in his famous quote “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration” was advising on the long toil and work invention entails, way beyond the initial idea (which is only a minimal part of the work), and where one would need mad about a something not seen by anybody else just to continue. Even, Edison must have had its detractors (many actually) and moments where he just needed to tell to himself something great was coming out of the work, although he might have been in experiment 557 out of 999 to get the invention right.

The conscious training of the mind, to only see what one wants to see, is a road full of perils that needs to be travelled with caution, keeping clear perspective of whom is trainer and what is that we are training for. One doesn’t want to be like Icarus once finding a workaround to a problem, get too confident about it, to burn and crash from flying too close to the sun. And maybe what we are training for is really to understand the limits of things fully — including your own self —, but yet not allowing for the same limits to constrain a belief of being able to overcome them. For experienced entrepreneurs, the best asset they possess is how they managed fear of failure. Not by telling themselves a lie, but from actually limiting their risks to what they had at the beginning of the venture, when nothing was there. Because, they have seen how not useful is to avoid failure instead of confronting it from the start, they can see mistakes more quickly, change and survive the long toil of unknown prospects, and sometimes even come up winning at the end.

And yes, for many self-deception might be necessary to start, and even positive to a point, as to overcome general consensus of impossibility, however taken too far is actually just mental protection that impedes building sustainably on ideas firmly tested and proven on practice. How much one can test what has never been proven without being accused of fooling himself, is a matter that only experience can solve. Experience in trying the unknown and knowing oneself to the fullest, as to try always to be commanding a desired outcome.

“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

Send to Kindle

Leave a Reply