Avoid the Pitfall of Excessive Positivity
SOCIAL MEDIA MAVENS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP ARE FOND OF PREACHING THE UPSIDE OF UNBRIDLED POSITIVISM, BUT ...
We daily see posts on social media extolling 1) the virtues of getting outside of your comfort zone, 2) learning that positive attitude conquers all, 3) that entrepreneurship is the fastest path to realizing all of your life's dreams, and/or 4) some other half-assed, super-optimistic drivel.
Out of work or weary of your routine job working for someone else? Start your own business. After all, it only takes an idea — sound, innovative, trite, or crackpot, no matter — and a positive attitude.
Depressed? You only feel that way by virtue of the limitations you are placing upon yourself. Shape up and understand that your fate is entirely in your own hands. The "right" attitude conquers all. And with the right attitude, your potential is limitless.
It's mostly poppycock, intended to make you feel warm and fuzzy, maybe sign up for some life coaching or an exercise and diet program for budding entrepreneurs. Or, perhaps, just to build a following for the author of the post, since nothing attracts flies as much or as well as poppycock — unless, perhaps, it's bull chips ...
The snag is that Excessive Positivity is not alway benign ... at times, it can be actively damaging ...
And never more so than in the sphere of small business. Consider, if you will, the following "case study".
I was not too long ago contacted by an upstart entrepreneur who was running into problems getting a project off the ground. The primary problem? Revenue was not developing as expected, and significant financial loss was looming on the near horizon.
This would-be entrepreneur had jumped into the project with both feet, propelled by a burning sense of purpose and optimism and encouraged by others who waxed supremely enthusiastic over the core idea — on social media.
However, when the transition was made from ideation to instantiation, the hard bumps of reality began to intrude. Sales continued at a level far below expectation. And the project was headed inexorably toward the Red Sea and some very painful losses.
It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the venture was suffering from lack of planning ... However, that inference would be wrong ...
A business plan had been developed, including revenue forecast against projected expenses and a break-even analysis. Could the business plan have been more comprehensive? Perhaps. But it wasn't a lack of planning that was the problem. Rather, it was an overly optimistic expectation of initial market response, that is, early sales.
Part of the problem was also that an alternative "Plan B" had not been developed to anticipate the possibility of what, in fact, happened. Was that unusually naive? Again, perhaps, but more likely, the result of trusting correspondents and respondents on social media.
For on social media, I've seen many times more than once memes and posts that proclaim sayings to the effect that, "If you feel the need for a 'Plan B', you lack faith in your Plan A and will doom it to failure." As though somehow optimism and positivity — not to mention having no alternative — can somehow function to overcome all problems.
As someone who has spent most of his adult working life in the small-business sector, let me tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.
In a September 2013 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that 56% of Americans thought themselves capable of starting and running their own business, while against this ambience of willful optimism and confidence, there stands a sobering reality of statistics that predict about half of such businesses will fail within the first couple of years.
So, where does all this positivity on social media come from? Well, that same WSJ article reported that, of the 56% of Americans who expressed positivism toward small-business creation and operation, only 6% actually ever undertook to put their beliefs into real-world practice — that is, actually started and attempted to run their own business.
"P" can stand for "positive", but also for "pollyanna", and if you are considering starting a new small-business venture, you would do well to assure that you understand the difference between the two ...
A major and very successful entrepreneur, who was at various times my client, boss, and friend, once told me that if he listened to his accountant, lawyers, and planners, he would never have acquired any of the 125 companies that he bought and built. So instead, he said, he went mostly with his instinct — which worked for him since, at the time (2001), he was worth some $1.8 billion.
Of course, he could tolerate an unusually high level of risk. And tended to treat just thinking of something the same as having it actually accomplished. Which might work for you as well. But more likely, won't.
The better way for most of us is to avoid the pitfall of excessive positivity.
Like the would-be entrepreneur mentioned in my "case study", most of us are better off following a more conservative path that includes:
- Developing not only Plan A but Plan B in case Plan A does not prove out in reality.
- Developing not only Plan B but Plan C in case Plan B does not prove out in reality.
- Always be conservative when estimating initial market response.
- Never expect a new small-business to support itself during its first year of operation.
- Make sure you have the capital resources to support the business, or at least yourself, for the first year.
- Last but far from least, establish an abort trigger — and stick to it.
Starting a new small-business venture without first establishing an abort trigger is like selling short in the stock market — your losses can be potentially unlimited.
A well-delineated abort trigger helps prevent you from becoming like the losing gambler who keeps doubling down in order to recoup un-recoupable losses.
The abort trigger should represent the point at which any developing losses or other factors such as lack of sales reach the maximum you can tolerate and/or support without irretrievably damaging yourself financially or personally going forward. It is critical to have one because it is one thing to lose a pile money and have to start over again, while it is quite another to lose a pile of money and never be able to recover. It is also one thing to lose a business you're trying to start, but quite another to lose your spouse and family in the process — something I've witnessed more than once over three decades in small-business and small-business consulting.
Understand that none of this is to counsel fear or negativity, but only to caution you to employ reasonable prudence and good judgment. And to avoid the kind of excessive positivity that is showered upon you on social media.
My best wishes to you for a successful and prosperous New Year 2017. (Update: 2018)
— Phil Friedman
Postscript: Please do not mistake what I've said here as a discouragement to pursuing your dream of having and running a small business. For it is not intended to be such. I have spent the vast majority of my adult working life as a small-businessman and small-business consultant. And looking back, I would not have had it any other way. — PLF
Author's Notes: If you found this article of value, you might also want to look at some of my other writing about small business operations, management, and marketing:
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