Why are entrepreneurs often alone with their new ideas?

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

One attribute that I believe is absolutely necessary is the ability to weather criticism. In order to do something that no one else has done, to go where no person has gone before, the entrepreneur must recognize that they will be criticized and humiliated by others, family and friend alike, throughout the process of developing their ideas. Selling your idea to the bank or venture capitalist is nothing compared to the agony of those negative looks you can get from the ones you love.

Jasmine was frustrated, confused and hurt. She had invited a group of friends over to her new place (a small business in her home, opening within a few months), but instead of compliments she received a lot of negativity. People were shocked that Jasmine would consider such an undertaking. Some were even angry that she had not shared her secret sooner. Several friends warned her of pitfalls in her plan. Another friend congratulated her on her success, but took it all back with a comment on how they would have done it differently. There was only one friend who gave her hearty congratulations. He even acknowledged that this project fit Jasmine to a “T” and that he could imagine a prosperous future for her.

Except for the one friend who gave Jasmine her due, why did the others react in such a negative way? It’s hard to believe that Jasmine would have such unkind friends. Would these same friends warn the bride and groom at the wedding that they were making a bad choice or that they should stop everything now before it’s too late? Probably not, but they did feel free to dump on Jasmine.

Envy is a logical choice but I think you need to dig a little deeper. Many of Jasmine’s friends are successful in their own right, so why would they be envious of her accomplishments? Also many of them had heard her talk for months about her project, so it wasn’t entirely new when they attended her party.

Another logical answer is that Jasmine’s friends were trying to help her by warning her of problems. In other words they wanted to prevent her disappointment when she failed. Unfortunately in the warning is the implication that she will fail. Many people avoid success by preventing failure. It is a common human strategy. Mediocrity is the outcome.

In order to weather the negativity and continue on your path to business success, entrepreneurs need to understand something of how people accept change . . . change in you which produces change in their circumstances. When Jasmine invited her friends over to see her new business, she was introducing them to change. Her ideas were becoming reality, which meant that Jasmine was changing and that their relationship with her would change also. The first reaction that most people make to change is negative or denial. Many of Jasmines’ friends acted as if the party was their first notification of the business venture, when in fact she had talked with them for months about it.

To check out this phenomenon scientifically a couple of psychologists conducted an experiment with volunteers. They wanted to find out just how people adapt to change, and what steps they go through to accept that their model of reality has to change to include new information. The psychologists photographed playing cards, one at a time, so that they could flash them in front of the subject at varying rates of speed. The subject was told that the experimenters wanted to learn how fast the subject could see the card, register the identity of the card, send that visual information to the part of the brain that interprets what we see, and then speak the name of the card. The results of this experiment are astounding.

At first the psychologists flashed the cards so quickly that the subject saw only a blur. Then as the cards slowed down the subject began to identify the cards without any problem. However, the psychologists had a little trick up their sleeve. Some of the cards were altered to make them incompatible with the standard for playing cards. For example, the ace of spades was red and the ten of clubs had nine spots. The psychologists wanted to know how slowly they would have to flash the cards for the subject to recognize the deception. And they wanted to know what steps the subject has to go through to change their “map of reality” to include the possibility that they had been duped.

Just as in real life the subject went through denial at first. They called off the playing cards with confidence even though the cards were altered. After another run through, the subject’s denial began to slip, at least unconsciously. They named the cards as if they were normal playing cards, but they had a puzzled look on their face. In a third or fourth run through, the subject noted aloud that there was “something wrong” with a card, but they weren’t sure what it was. With another trial or so, the subject correctly identified what was altered with one card, and could correctly identify all other alterations.

It appears then that Jasmine’s friends are in varying stages of expanding their consciousness to include the possibility that Jasmine is changing. The negativity is a common way that we respond to change. It’s as if denial will somehow keep the status quo so we don’t have to learn anything new or demonstrate a lack of skill. But eventually, if Jasmine is persistent in following her business dream, her friends will adapt. They will deny; then wrinkle their noses; then comment on how “something is wrong”; then laugh and get it. When they get it, they will either join her in support or move away to a reality more to their liking.

If you need a lot of approval to follow a dream, you are probably not an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs rarely get approval in the initial stages of a project, when only they can see the spots on the cards. However, if the entrepreneur can hang in there, if you have done the research and you really believe in your idea, eventually your family and friends will back you. Most of the time they are not trying to hold you back. Don’t be so paranoid. They just need time to alter their perceptions to include the new possibilities you have created.

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