Virtually all of us are sensitive to the feelings of others. It is a natural part of being part of any society. Quite often we tell “little white lies” to avoid hurting other’s feelings. With children, we offer positive reinforcement even if they “struck out” when they “tried real hard” but still came in last place. We do this with adults too. Have you ever heard someone tell a woman that their new haircut or style looked awful? This is clearly not a gender issue, most of us are constantly conscious of avoiding hurting others whether they are friends, family, or business colleagues. Unfortunately, a few individuals do take the opposite approach and for poor self-esteem or other “personality defects” go out of their way to make others feel bad. When we encounter those individuals we naturally try to limit our exposure to them.
Unfortunately, the “little white lie” in some circumstances can have significantly harmful effects. This misplaced encouragement can result in giving a false sense of security or validation to a person that, in the long run, may not be in their best interest. This situation commonly arises with entrepreneurs who are in the idea stage and are seeking validation from others.
Typically, during the idea stage, an entrepreneur will share their idea and their vision with friends and family and perhaps some close business colleagues. Those individuals will probably be more inclined to be supportive to the entrepreneur as a person than as a potential CEO of a startup. The entrepreneur, who is a firm and passionate believer in their idea, is much more likely to hear supportive comments from others than to read between the lines and pick up any negative expressions. As the entrepreneur’s plan becomes further developed, in part based on the encouragement of others, they expand their audience looking for more of the same positive encouragement. Only when the entrepreneur actually asks others to join in and equally commit, will they begin to experience honest feedback. Even then, answers might be “not at this time” when the person really has no intention of ever joining. Another common response is “great idea, keep pursuing it” when there is little doubt that the idea will ever succeed. To be fair, many great ideas were rebuked by many people and only the persistence, against all odds of the entrepreneur, did they become reality.
An entrepreneur needs to keep in mind the kind motives of those that provide encouragement. It is easy to take that encouragement at face value. However, it is very important for the entrepreneur to ask for candid opinions even if there is a high likelihood that the answers may not be what they want to hear. Misplaced encouragement to an entrepreneur can rob them of an irreplaceable commodity: time. Money can always be replaced but time cannot. If an idea is truly not worth pursuing, it is in everyone’s best interest to find out early to minimize the amount of fruitless time spent.
The misplaced encouragement notion should not be confused with the trend that seems to be common in Silicon Valley of “fail early”. Googling that term will result in many opinions about the subject. The notion of avoiding misplaced encouragement is intended to capture candid opinions of others who are interested in the long term well-being of the entrepreneur as they see it. The goal is to help the entrepreneur truly not to waste their most precious resource: time. Individuals are not likely to offer candid negative opinions on their own. The entrepreneur must actively seek them separating the criticism of the idea from criticism of themselves. It is easy to ask for candid opinions but often hard to accept them.
Following the “logic” that if you look for the worst, you will never be disappointed, questioning any positive encouragement can be just as erroneous as ignoring it. In the early days of inception, seek out friendly advisers that have direct experience and are willing to spend the necessary time with you delving deeper into your idea. Work closely with them to clearly understand that you are addressing a problem that they believe is worth solving vis-à-vis the other challenges that they face. Let them help you refine your ideas. Listen closely to what they say, and equally important to what they don’t say. Thank them for their help and guidance and then seek objective opinions from others. Focus on what they say and avoid attempting to address their objections. Accept them at face value. Avoid, at all costs, falling into the trap of “they just don’t understand” rationalization. This will be a sure sign of your own internal misplaced encouragement! Think in terms of “If they don’t get it, I didn’t give it!”