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Searching while hoping not to find

· Perception,Bias,Avoidance

Searching while hoping not to find: moments of willful blindness.

There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.
Søren Kierkegaard

I listened to start-up mentors reflecting on their experiences of working with entrepreneurs in love with the uniqueness of their ideas. How do they know that their idea is new? If the novelty is important to the success of their business, I assume they would test for it thoroughly.

The mentors observed various avoiding behaviors. When validating business plans, their mentees appeared to “go through the motions” of looking for similar ideas or other businesses solving the same problem. They knew they should do the research, but they seemed to avoid finding an answer. They searched half-heartedly; they assigned the research to interns; they fitted in or deprioritized the search. When their findings challenged the uniqueness of their ideas, they challenged the validity of the source.

How does this behavior serve the start-up? Why the aversion to honest reality testing? Is it just pride or avoiding disappointment? Are they willfully avoiding seeing what was in plain view or is it a subconscious defense mechanism? Founders’ exuberance sustains entrepreneurs far through many challenges, but it is fragile and easily damaged. It can act like blinkers on a horse: powerful focus on the finish line that can also blind us from competitors and environmental factors that may take us off course.

It’s not only entrepreneurs who get stuck like this. Does this happen to you? The mentors challenged this behavior. They pushed the entrepreneurs to talk to their target market, embrace the competition of ideas and offerings, and answer the difficult questions.


How do you break out of searching while hoping not to find?

Andrew Jones is an Executive Coach and Career Counselor. Please contact Andrew directly to learn more about this topic or subscribe below to hear more from Andrew in the future.