January 7, 2009

But I’m Different

Every year, millions of people buy a lottery ticket in California. Millions believe that maybe, just maybe, they’ll get the winning ticket. In other words, millions of chumps spend about $10 for a <1% chance of winning money that most winners squander within a few years of winning.

Sometimes, one very lucky guy or gal is right. Millions are dead wrong. But every one of those lotto players are convinced to at least the amount of about $10 that they’re the exception. Likewise in business, some people say, “I don’t need a business plan.” Others, “I’m not the sales type.” Baloney!

There’s a dangerous habit of thinking that gets people in trouble. I call it “exceptional thinking”.

Exceptional thinking is when you think you are the exception to the rule. When you think that you’re different than every other person who has walked on the face of this earth. Sometimes it comes out as a pessimistic thought (e.g., “I could never do what they do.”), and sometimes as an overly optimistic thought (e.g., “I don’t need to eat lots of fruits and vegetables to stay healthy.”). Either way, it’s bad.

Have you seen those posters with a breath-taking photo of a mountain or a great sports feat bordered in black and inscribed with an inspirational quote? There’s a company called Despair, Inc. that makes posters after those style of motivational posters minus the motivational part. My co-worker dedicated a poster to me that sums up what I’m saying perfectly. Click here to view it.

Yes, we are all born with unique talents and strengths. And, yes, we should focus on our strengths, but that doesn’t mean that we can dictate which side of a statistic we’ll fall on or that common human foibles don’t exist in us. The good news is that also means there’s rare occasion when someone succeeds beyond any level we could reach. Basically what I’m saying is we all play by the exact same rules.

Tiger Woods Isn’t Deity

If I’m writing an article relating to success, I have to include the obligatory Tiger Woods reference. Tiger Woods wasn’t born with a golf club in his hand. He may have started at a young age or have natural talent or be the ideal height or wear special underwear, but whatever the advantage, it wasn’t gifted to just Tiger Woods.

We may not all have equal opportunities, but anyone able to read this blog post has opportunities, and I would aver, enough opportunities to be a really successful entrepreneur.

No one is so special they can’t copy what worked for someone else and get the same result. You can be salesy enough to sell your product. You can take your company public. Just do what other successful people did.

The hopeful truth in that last paragraph leads me to my next, more discouraging point.

The Corollary: You’re Really Not That Unique

People often tell me how they work better by procrastinating and then scrambling right before a deadline. I also hear how some people forget things they write down so they don’t write them down to remember them or how the less they read, the wiser they are. Sure, you have unique strengths, but come on . . .

In our business, the most common is the guy who won’t listen to our business advice but wants us to connect him with our investors anyway, no matter how unprepared he might be. He has the next “multi-zillion dollar idea”, but his business plan consists of a hand-written diagram on a stained piece of paper. We have a business plan review process in place and we provide consulting services to entrepreneurs in his position, but he insists he knows better than we do. It’s tempting to believe him and give him a chance, but every time we have, it’s led to embarrassment on our side and theirs.

It seems that the one thing everybody who’s “different” has in common is an unwillingness to accept the need for change. Instead of acknowledging their deficiency, they insist it’s a special, unalterable endowment. I guess that’s a more comfortable perspective. You can recognize people with this attitude by their mantra: “But I’m different!” If you notice yourself saying that, slap yourself on the spot.

There’s Hope

Luckily, because we’re all uniquely similar, there’s a common principle to success. It’s called humility. It’s so refreshing to talk to an entrepreneur who’s not discouraged by the daunting journey to fundability and yet not over-confident in their ability to shortcut it. If you are humble enough to accept that you might need some help and willing to give it all you’ve got, we can help you. If not, here’s my guess at the lottery. I’m sure it’s as good as any: 4 8 2 9 2 3

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