Although I did complete a Psychology degree at university, I’m no psychologist. And I’m no self-help guru either. But the more I think about startups and entrepreneurs, the more I think that one of the leading causes of startup failure is lying. Not lying to other people, but lying to oneself.
People lie to themselves all the time. We’re so good at it we do it subconsciously. We bury the truth so deeply that it doesn’t come out until the walls are crumbling around us and our bank balance is bloody red. We mask the truth and apply a heavy reality distortion field.
But here’s the thing: We have to. Entrepreneurs have to lie to themselves. I don’t think we could get through it if we didn’t. The level of uncertainty entrepreneurs face is extremely high. We’re asked to make decisions on a constant basis with partial information and little experience. We need to sell a vision and a dream as much as reality, which is in essence a lie. We have to get up every day after being punched in the head and keep going. We know the odds of success are slim, and yet we keep going. When an entrepreneur succeeds it’s almost always because of drive and passion (luck and timing play a huge role too!) Drive and passion are there to mask the truth.
And yet, I think too many people lie to themselves too much. As a result, too much passion, drive and enthusiasm is pointed at the wrong things. Entrepreneurs stick with zombie companies too long, get burnt out beyond recovery, bang their heads against the wall until they collapse, make critical mistakes … all because they’re lying to themselves. And they believe their own hype. Positive feedback is wonderful as long as it doesn’t overly reinforce an entrepreneur’s lies. Reason, judgement and strategy are thrown out the window so quickly when things are going incredibly well or bad, in large part because the lies we’ve ingrained in ourselves either propel us to false heights or buoy us against disaster. Lie too much to yourself and your startup has a very good chance of failing.
Somewhere there’s a line between a necessary amount of lying and too much. I’m not quite sure where it is, but I’m keeping myself on alert, so I don’t delude myself beyond reason.