HomeKnow-How8 thinking traps that first-time startup founders often fall into

8 thinking traps that first-time startup founders often fall into

Starting your business is an exciting time and can change one’s life. But many founders find themselves facing dilemmas, which arise when your mind convinces you of one thing when in reality it’s completely untrue. Looking for advice from mentors or fellow entrepreneurs, despite their good intentions, can sometimes create mind traps that confuse or create uncertainty on what to do.

Panicking is not an option, as you can overcome these thinking traps by learning to notice and identify when you’re facing a cognitive distortion, acknowledging a thinking pattern and refuting it. So what can you do? Take a step back, to find out some easy tips to identify these traps and challenge them:

Confirmation trap: seeing what you want to see.

One of the most common traps is a very “reassuring” one: looking for information that will most likely support your idea, while conveniently avoiding information that challenges it….

This bias affects not only when you’re collecting info, but also how you interpret data: we are much less critical of arguments that support our ideas and much more resistant to arguments against them. We don’t push ourselves to see other points of view, but instead, we interpret information so it agrees with our perspective. This is especially true for issues we are emotionally attached to or have deeply entrenched beliefs in.

Tackle it by exposing yourself to conflicting information, look for evidence and avoid precipitated interpretations. A great tool is to “hire” a devil’s advocate: find someone you respect to argue against your arguments. But don’t ask leading questions, use neutral questions to avoid people merely confirming your biases: “What do you feel about product X’s design?” works better than “Should I change the product X’s design?”

Polarizing: looking at a situation in extreme views.

Polarized thinking happens when you believe that there are only right or wrong outcomes to a situation. When you view things in such extreme terms, it leads to unachievable standards. Thinking and reacting this way, will trigger unnecessary stress and frustration, because you’ll find yourself facing the future dependent on a single event or outcome, such as winning a pitch competition.

You must acknowledge that there are a lot of levels between glory and tragedy, and that most things will fall somewhere in between. Accept and understand that no single accomplishment or failure is going to determine the future of your project.

When facing an important event or decision, try to figure out what can be the actual impacts of a failure and have a plan for dealing with those consequences.

“Mind reading”: assuming the meaning of other’s actions.

We can never be 100% sure what someone else is thinking. Yet, everyone occasionally assumes they know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of guessing what others are thinking and labeling them. Misreading a person will lead you to misjudge or misinterpreted a situation based on your own perception or cultural background, and not on actual communication.

Remind yourself to be open-minded when starting a conversation. Especially in negotiations don’t assume the other person standpoint from the start and jump to conclusions. Don’t guess, when in doubt communicate what you want or what you need from the other person.

The “cool boss” attitude: trying too hard to make everyone like you.

Usually, there’s a very thin line between being the “boss” and being a friend when you’re running an early-stage startup with a small team. Being friendly can be helpful in any scenario, but faking honesty or “overacting it” will have drastic consequences both personally and to your company’s spirit.

Being trusted is the key for any leader. Focus on establishing trustful and honest relations: recognize and reward good deeds and when you need to have hard conversations, just be direct and say what you need to say. Seek to listen and be professional on your feedback.

Taking it too personally: it’s all me, me, me.

Almost definitely you’ll end up falling into this trap… Because at the start, it’s as personal as it gets: your idea, your risk, and your reputation. But as the business progresses, you need to put an end to the one-man show by hiring staff to your team and get stakeholders onboard. The trick here is to work like it’s personal but try to detach yourself from the excessive criticism. Learn to delegate: start by drawing up processes, almost like a guidebook for how to do things and then define roles and responsibilities.

Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you should alienate yourself, so try to maintain outside interests that are completely separate from your business. Sports, hobbies or whatever gets you out of work mode for a few hours. It helps keep your identity separate from the project and also helps you switch off.

Anchoring trap: over-relying on first thoughts.

Your starting point can heavily bias your thinking: initial impressions, ideas, estimations, numbers or other data “anchor” subsequent thoughts. This trap is particularly dangerous as it’s deliberately used on many occasions, for example: an experienced salesmen will show you a higher-priced product first, anchoring that price in your mind.

You can solve this by clearly defining the problem before going down a particular solution path. Look at the problem from different perspectives to avoid being limited to a single point of view. Then get as much data as possible, because by seeking information from a wide variety of sources you will expose you to different opinions and broaden your frame of reference.

Innovation trap: if it ain’t disruptive, it won’t make it.

A common belief in the startup world is that innovation is doing everything differently and only disruption sells.

Some companies like Uber or AirBnb did create new market needs or shook their industries upside down, but most successful companies make their way by acknowledging market dynamics and introducing innovations in only specific aspects to tackle unmet needs or opportunities. There are many ways to skin the cat, so business models vary based on personal style and actual demand conditions. Don’t get stuck in the preconceived notion of how innovation should happen. If you talk to successful startup founders, you’ll find that more often than not at some point they had to pivot their product, pricing or branding.

And the best way to determine this should be client feedback or actual market demand, rather than any inner force to propel constant change.

Negative filtering: focusing only on negative feedback.

Perhaps you have just made a presentation and in the feedback you receive some positive reviews and two negative. So many times you see entrepreneurs focusing only on the two negative reviews. In this trap, your mind tends to zoom in on negative aspects while ignoring everything else, this might lead you to feel like ***t about your presentation and behave as though you did everything wrong.

In these cases you need take into account the full picture and avoid catastrophizing. Understand negative feedback as an opportunity for improvement and try to broader your analysis, in order to have a more balanced view of each situation. Being too pessimistic can have a negative impact on you, your decision making and your business.

So there is no reason for over-ventilating! These ‘thinking traps’ are inherent parts of us: they make us human. Our mind is fascinating, complex and, sometimes, a bit tricky: it can have a lot of fun creating thought patterns that can lead to distress.

Take time to discover how you think and act in stressful situations, by mastering your emotional self-control. Applying rigor and rational thinking to your decisions will help you to navigate in the uncharted waters of the startup world.

Jorge Pimenta
Jorge Pimenta
Innovation Director at IPN (Portugal) and passionate about technology and startups. He actively participates as a speaker, jury and mentor in acceleration programs. His main interests include space, sustainability, eHealth, and active aging.

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