Entrepreneurs, Failure and the Curse of Cognitive Dissonance


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


Jay Adelson, the co-founder of Digg, said, ““If you haven’t failed 5X as many times as you succeeded you’re not prepared for success.” Statements like that 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 as present when they need to accept personal responsibility for failure. Without genuine accountability, 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 a shift from talking about the causes of failure in the abstract. Instead of saying we ran out of cash’, it’s better to acknowledge and accept the failure and say it’s ‘because you failed to budget properly and secure a fresh injection of cash.

To avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future, you must hold yourself accountable and face up to the true causes of the failure. If you 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 acted and how we perceive ourselves, the discomfort we experience causes us to reframe the event so that it is aligned with our self-image and self-expectations. This often makes us justify our mistakes, blame others, and deny responsibility.

Begin with ‘I’

The 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. To experience the real benefits of failure, you must shift your focus from finding a scapegoat and acknowledge your responsibility and power to change events.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Martin Soorjoo

Founder of The Pitch Clinic, Martin Soorjoo is a pitch strategist. He coaches entrepreneurs world-wide, helping them launch and raise funding. Prior to founding The Pitch Clinic, Martin spent 15 years as a former award winning attorney. He has worked with start-ups and investors, including senior investment bankers, venture capitalists and angel investors. During this period Martin raised several million dollars, including negotiating one deal worth $75 Million. This experience has equipped him with unique insights into the challenges start-ups face and how investors make decisions. He is a Certified Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and an expert in body language.

Martin is the author of ‘Here’s the Pitch‘.

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