Entrepreneurs Need to Be Mean

Are you mean enough to be an entrepreneur?

You were probably taught that the world is black and white. The truth is there’s mostly grey. The grey world is a dangerous place for an entrepreneur that only sees in black and white. Black and white are for middle management. If you’re going to succeed in this arena, you need to be able to find the mean. The mean is the statistical average of the shades between black and white.

The entrepreneurial sentiment of “I want to change the world” is not enough. Change is something that comes about rather easily. You already changed the world the day you were born. The deeper sentiment here is, “I believe the world is going in the wrong direction and I want to correct its trajectory.”

Sure, both statements are basically saying the same thing. But, doesn’t the latter sound more impactful and more audacious? It’s definitely more likely to achieve the status of the proverbial Unicorn. The former can provide a pretty useless foundation for building a business atop. For this reason, 99.9% of entrepreneurs will change their world. In fact, many will meet their expectations the day they even conceptualize of going to market. So, why hasn’t “I want to correct the trajectory of the world” become the cliche sentiment of entrepreneurs? Yep, you guessed it. They’re not mean enough!

I was consistently told I was mean for 20 plus years of my life. I was always dumbfounded by this notion. I was always a nice kid and my teachers always had nice things to say about me, with the exception of talking too much in class. People usually liked me and I was usually pretty popular. However, to my younger sister, Cindy, I was mean.

These mean things I did – which, reflecting back were words I said – got me in a lot of trouble. Again, it didn’t make any sense to me because I wasn’t a troublemaker. As it turns out, this was the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. Now that I’m older and my job is to manage the biases of decision makers and the markets they serve, I was really mean. I was super mean. I loved being mean!

The underlying problem was that Cindy perceived my words of wisdom to be a competitive attack. I was young and thought we had the same worldviews. She didn’t realize my intent was to play the role of big brother and to help guide her direction toward a positive outcome. She saw my views as directly opposing hers. So instead of an intellectual discussion, I was met with, “Mom, Jeff’s being mean!” We were never really close growing up. I thought she hated my personality – the same one that made me lots of friends…

Jared Schneider recently described me to a lady he is dating. He told her, “Jeff was really popular in college. But, it almost didn’t make sense. He always went against the grain. He would point something out and play devil’s advocate with people he had just met. He would pretty much cause an argument with everyone. But inevitably he would end up laughing because people would realize he was right.” Her reply was, “He sounds like a really smart guy.”

Thanks Liza! That’s sort of the point – to gain perspective. Once I made a new friend I would become their trusted advisor, understanding their viewpoint and pointing them in a new direction. If I didn’t succeed in winning them over, I still gained something. I was both entertained by the discussion and provided with a learning lesson about the viewpoint while testing the psyche’s ability to see more than one path. Whether I was playing devil’s advocate or being mean to Cindy I only have one goal in mind: correct the error.

Sometimes, admittedly, the error was mine. The way to fix an error is to unabashedly be the mean.  I am selfishly unselfish when it comes to errors. Errors torment me. My weakness in life is that I think I am correct. My strength is that I am not afraid to be wrong. This allows me to quickly correct my bias (and yours).

It is true that most people don’t want to change their bias. But, that’s not the goal. The goal is to guide the bias toward an outcome that corrects the trajectory (of the world). Let’s use a hypothetical, political ship for understanding how to correct a person’s bias:

  • Bobby likes red ships. In his world, the only ship that matters is the red ship.
  • When you meet Bobby, you recognize that there are also blue ships in the world.
  • The problem with a red ship is that passengers will only sit on the right side of the ship – so the ship leans right.
  • There’s a problem with blue ships too. The passengers will only sit on the left and the ship leans left.
  • You are an entrepreneur, you need a ship that will go straight.
  • Because you can’t change Bobby’s bias, your aim is to correct his bias.
  • You need a purple ship and you need Bobby to recognize that there is a place for red ship people on that purple ship.

How do you get a red shipmate and a blue shipmate aboard the purple ship? You find common ground. That is your job. You are an entrepreneur. And if you’re going to be any good at it you need to understand why the red and blue ships attract passengers. So that when you build the purple ship there are already passengers awaiting. It’s up to you to make it meaningful.

Find Satori, my fellow Salesman.

Author: Jeff Donnelly

Game Designer. In both business and life, the potential is limited by the number of transactions available. Life is like a game. Jeff designs games that allow people to realize their full potential.

Author: Jeff Donnelly

Game Designer. In both business and life, the potential is limited by the number of transactions available. Life is like a game. Jeff designs games that allow people to realize their full potential.

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