Don't Stop Believing: A Path Towards Failure

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It’s a mantra that I’m sure you’ve heard a million times.

“Believe in yourself.”

It’s also a crock of shit.

It’s not that it’s not true. It is. Every story of entrepreneurial greatness involves someone who saw a problem and believed that they had a way to solve the problem. Without that belief, their idea would fail, their company would fall, and they’d be done. So many people fail because they don’t believe in themselves enough to take the actions that are needed.

“But wait? Didn’t you just say that belief in yourself is a crock?”

Yes. I did. But it’s a little more complicated that just believing in yourself.

Some Ideas are Good and Some Ideas are Bad

One of the first things that anyone must do in order to figure out if an idea is any good is…figure out if the idea is any good. That’s where validation comes into play. This is where you find out if people like your idea or not.

Maybe your idea is good or maybe your idea is bad. There’s no way to know, unless you start asking people and listening to what they have to say.

But why do you have to listen to other people? You just have to believe in yourself, right?

That’s the problem. Too many people look at belief in yourself as a black or white thing. They think it trumps everything else. They think that it trumps every other conceivable thing. But there’s one thing that trumps belief.

A good idea.

You see, good ideas are hard to come by and belief is pretty damned easy. Any fool can convince themself that they’ve got a good idea if they believe in themself enough. It happens all the time.

The real challenge, and the thing that separates the good from the bad and the bad from the ugly, is the ability to say, “oh shit, I might be wrong.”

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a local startup CEO and talk about the future of my own business. I was growing and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do in the future but I wanted to know what he thought of the ideas I had. I absolutely believed that if I did these things that I had planned that I would be successful. And to a point, I still think I was right.

After I finished laying out my plan to him, he asked me a question.

“What would it take for me to convince you you’re wrong?”

The truth is that all it would take is asking me not to and giving me a few good reasons why. After all, that’s why I was coming to him in the first place. He had experience with not just running a business but also scaling a business. So when he gave me a few good reasons, I changed my mind.

End of story.

You see, believing in yourself is one thing. But believing that no one else on the entire planet other than you knows what they are talking about? Well, that’s not confidence or belief. That’s ego. And ego, unlike belief, does not have a place.

The best way to think about it is like this.

You can believe in yourself. You can believe that you are a smart person. You’ve got common sense. You can figure things out. That’s belief. That’s you, believing in yourself. And that’s really good. I mean that’s great. I know people who don’t have this and literally none of them are successful. And I don’t mean that they don’t run a successful company or that they’re not liquid. I mean they’re unhappy and they work in jobs they don’t like. Those are the positives and negatives of believing in yourself.

But then there’s belief in your ideas. Let’s say that you believe in your idea. You’ve got this idea and you totally believe that it’s the next big thing. It’s an app. And it’s going to do something incredible. You show it to a few friends and they all tell you that it’s kind of a dumb idea. They tell you that they just don’t think that it’s something that people will use or pay for.

That’s ok. Some people have no vision. Some people just don’t get it. But you do. Because you believe in yourself.

So you show a few more people. Some of them are friends but some of them are further outside your social circle. And once you show them all your app, they all tell you the same thing. They tell you that it’s kind of a dumb idea that people will neither pay for or use.

That’s ok. Some people have no vision. Some people just don’t get it. But you do. Because you believe in yourself.

So you run some customer interviews and focus groups. You check in with people that you don’t know at all. These are people that are interested in the fundamental problems that you’re trying to solve. And let’s say that they all tell you what everyone else has been telling you. Your app sucks. No one wants to use it. No one wants to buy it.

Make a Choice

This is where you have a fundamental choice to make. You can either believe in yourself or you can not believe in yourself. I would recommend the latter.

In my opinion, the key to being successful is not in believing in yourself but rather in believing in your ability to be wrong really well. I love being wrong. It’s one of my favourite activities. And I firmly believe that you can both believe in yourself and discover that you’re totally wrong all at the same time. That belief becomes about your ability to read and react rather than your ability to have a good idea.

So the next time that someone tells you that you’ve got a shit idea, believe in them and believe in yourself and then go from there.

 

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