Entrepreneurs, Failure and the Curse of Cognitive Dissonance

Encountering failure as an entrepreneur is normal and to be expected. To some extent, failure is sometimes worn as a badge of honor. Statements like

If you haven’t failed 5X as many times as you succeeded you’re not prepared for success.” by Jay Adelson , Co-Founder Digg

reinforce the belief that failure is an essential ingredient of startup success.


But Why Did You Fail?

There are many possible explanations for an entrepreneur failing, including the commonly heard:

the timing was wrong’

‘we ran out of cash’

‘Investors just didn’t have the vision we have’

The same enthusiasm that entrepreneurs have when talking about failure, is not so common when accepting personal responsibility for failure. Without genuine accountability, however, the true value of failure is lost.

Owning Failure

The above justifications for failure can all be attributed to poor planning, execution or presentation by the Founder /CEO. To truly benefit from your failures you must make the shift from talking about the causes of failure in the abstract e.g. instead of ‘we ran out of cash’. Instead acknowledge and accept the failure as occurring ‘because you failed to budget properly and secure a fresh injection of cash’.

It is only when you hold yourself accountable and face up to the true causes of failure, that you can avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.  As long attribute the failure to something or someone else, history is likely to repeat itself.


The Curse of Cognitive Dissonance

This denial of responsibility usually happens because of Cognitive Dissonance. Cognitive Dissonance is a protection mechanism that we use to justify our actions or behavior. This occurs because our mind tries to ensure that our actions are consistent with our beliefs, attitudes, and expectations of ourselves.  In other words, our natural tendency is to perceive our actions and behaviors as being consistent with our self-image.

When there is a gap between how we have acted and how we perceive ourselves, the discomfort we experience, causes us to reframe what happened, so that it is aligned with our self-image and self-expectations. This often, results in us justifying our mistakes, blaming others, and denying responsibility.

Begin with ‘I’

This natural tendency to avoid accepting responsibility can be easily avoided. The next time you encounter failure, simply start by focusing on what you could have done to avoid the situation. It is only when you shift your focus from blaming something or someone else, to acknowledging your responsibility and power to change events, that you can begin to experience the real benefits of failure.

Martin is the Founder of  The Pitch Clinic and the author of ‘Here’s the Pitch’.

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About Martin Soorjoo

Martin Soorjoo is the founder of San Francisco based Pitch Clinic. Over the past 25 years he has advised, coached and worked with Senior Executives, Investment Bankers, Venture Capitalists, Angels, Startup Founders, Attorneys, Judges, Politicians and other high achievers. Martin works with his clients to increase their Performance, Productivity and Presence. He also helps them create and deliver high impact presentations, whether they are delivering an important keynote address, raising venture capital or seeking a senior position in a company or public body. A former award winning attorney, Martin is the creator of 3XP Performance Coaching and and author of 'Here's the Pitch - How to Pitch Your Business to Anyone, Get Funded and Win Clients' published by Wiley. During his career at the Bar, Martin was consistently rated by the world’s leading legal directories as a ‘leader in his field’. He is a Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and expert in body language and performance psychology.

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