Here’s a post I’ve been trying to write for a while. The only way I could do it was to have a tough day and then free write. So who knows where we’ll end up.
I make mistakes. They’re becoming less and less stupid. And I’m becoming more and more insulated to them – they don’t hurt as much as they used to. So either my mistakes are getting smaller, or I’m getting bigger.
But I still make mistakes. When I do, three things always happen. The same three things that happen when my clients screw up too. You might find they feel familiar.
Let me preface this article by explaining something important: I’m about to open up. I’m sharing with you something I’ve noticed about myself, as an entrepreneur working on my business. As I lean into the edge of my comfort zone and beyond.
As a consultant and therapist, I’ve observed it enough times in my clients that I think it’s worth writing about. But I owe it to you, my reader, to share my first hand story. So let’s talk about how I messed up, then figured out the psychology of what really went wrong…
The first thing that happens is that I realize that I haven’t been listening to my gut.
Epic business fu*k ups don’t just happen – they don’t unfold in an instant, out of nowhere like a bomb going off. They’re actually kinda slow. A better metaphor would be a fire in a part of your house that you’re not paying attention to.
You smell smoke, but you tell yourself everything is fine. You want everything to be fine, because who wants to deal with a fire? So you insist that there is no fire and the smoke is just co-incidence. The neighbors must be grilling, or whatever. You certainly don’t check the other room for fire because that would be giving too much attention to a problem that doesn’t exist. Bad mojo, that.
Which brings me to the second stage of the handful of personal business disasters I’ve experienced:
By the time you’ve smelled the smoke, you’re already deep in it. You’re ignoring the quietly desperate signals your gut is sending you. Sometimes those signals are loud and obvious, but if you have a lot of emotional intelligence – as I like to think I do – your business mistake is likely to unfold gradually with only the most delicate warnings. Your gut will only give the faintest of discombobulated rumbles.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to deny such subtle intuition.
Denial is fueled by hope: The naive dream of a shortcut to the big time allows you to ignore doing what you know you should.
Crossing your fingers and wishing for success is easier than evaluating the holes in your strategy, but it never works.
This hope/denial dynamic is optimism and positive thinking at it’s worst. The last big mistake I made was all about hope: I was trying to make a big partnership deal happen by not working on it. I was the ostrich and the other things on my to-do list were my sand. Head = buried.
The outcome was a disaster of epic proportions. Epic financial impact. Epic letting down of many, many people. I managed to save a small piece of the deal, so all was not lost, but this was still as bitter a defeat as any I’ve faced as an entrepreneur.
My 20/20 hindsight tells me that it could have been entirely averted if I hadn’t buried my head. If I had just listened to what part of me knew all along. If I had just used my intuition as the call-to-action that it truly is.
Calling other people out on this stuff is dead easy. Hell, I built my career on it and you can totally hire me if you suspect you need it. That’s the whole problem: It’s hard to see outside of our own fishbowls.
Knowing all this doesn’t make avoiding the third and final – horseman of – business apocalypse mistake.
Because the next of the three is the most insidious of them all…
The human brain does the most weird thing when bad stuff happens to it. We ask ourselves – automatically and entirely unconsciously – Why did this this happen to me?
The answer to this question is rarely a good one. When you come at it from an empowered state, being the best possible version of yourself, you’ll get some great insight into things that you could have done better. You’ll reframe failure as “feedback” and learn to be smarter next time.
The problem is, it seldom pans out that way. The impulse to ask “WHY?! Oh lord WHY ME?!” – which is the negative-state-fueled version of the same question – is too hard to resist. Almost everyone tries to answer this crucial double-edged sword of a riddle… prematurely.
In a negative state, we’ll naturally gravitate towards stupid answers. Any lingering baggage you have will rear it’s ugly head.
“… Because I’m no good at this!”
“… Because no one really likes me”
The above are great examples of terrible, untrue answers that can feel very real.
The superstition really kicks in when we start searching for improbably cause-effect dynamics we can blame for the failure. For me, it was all about the idea that: “This happened because I got complacent, because I believed it was a done deal. Because my attitude was wrong.”
The truth is, my closely guarded inner attitudes about a particular project don’t matter one iota to the other people involved.
They don’t know what I’m thinking, so they can’t be influenced by it. It’s totally narcissistic to suggest otherwise. As much as I want to believe it sometimes, my thoughts don’t influence my reality quite that much.
You may be a beautiful unique snowflake, but you’re not always the center of the universe.
In my case, as in every other, the mistake happened because of fundamental business requirements not being met. The unique value wasn’t clear enough, the structural insulation from competitors weren’t there, the customer acquisition strategy was broken or the margins didn’t make sense. Those are really the only things that CAN go wrong.
Mistakes don’t happen because “people don’t like you”, or because of some huge conspiracy that is only just this second revealing that you have zero skills.
Nor is it because you didn’t hold your tongue in the right position, utter the correct incantation or even count your eggs before they hatch.
See how illogical and superstitious it is to entertain these ideas?
NewAge entrepreneurs will tie themselves in knots by trying to figure out how they “manifested” some big screw up… but sometimes it’s just because that core smart business stuff was missing.
It’s not personal. There certainly isn’t any voodoo involved.
How to never make business mistakes again
What I’ve slowly been learning is that the Ignoring-Intuition -> Denial -> Superstition chain is a well worn habit in myself and many others.
Every mistake I’ve ever made as an entrepreneur follows this pattern. I ignore the signs, deny them even once I’m made painfully aware of them… then dream up illogical explanations for why this has happened.
When I spot the pattern and resist falling into it, everything unfolds magnificently. I see the potential disasters and sail right by them, without even a spark of collateral damage catching. It’s a sublime and delicious sensation of knowing that that was a close one. Kind of like flipping a pancake in a frypan, throwing it way too high but catching it anyway.
It feels great.
Resisting the pattern and achieving this is simple: The how to portion of this article, is to listen carefully to your gut and keep your eyes open.
It’s to investigate the source of smoke when you smell it.
It’s to – rather than ask “Why me?!” – look long and hard at the commercial reality of what happened. And learn from it.
Though all entrepreneurs read about the need for failure, we all secretly think we can be the lucky ones who avoid it. Understanding the intuition-denial-superstition pattern is the only shortcut I know to avoiding serious business mistakes for real.