The Art of Being Unreasonable



Starting a business from nothing requires you to overcome unreasonable problems constantly. You have no resources, no time, and an infinite list of tasks to complete.

In pursuing your goals, you are asking both yourself and your team to do unreasonable things. However, there is a fine line between being unreasonable and being unrealistic. If you lose sight of that line, you will fail.

Learned Helplessness vs Self Confidence

One of the most depressing psychological principles that you could ever encounter is learned helplessness. It is a mental state where the subject is trapped and subjected to adverse stimuli (pain, abuse) from which they cannot escape. Eventually, the subject learns that there is no escape from the adverse stimuli and, even when given the chance to escape, fails to even try. They learned to be helpless.

While I am sure you will never abuse your team, subjecting them to unrealistic goals which they can never achieve can have a similar effect. Eventually, after being subjected to nothing but unattainable goals, people disassociate from such goals and will not treat them seriously. People will give up before they even start.

On the other hand, there is a connection between motivation and setting ambitious goals. Self efficacy is a psychological term for the confidence a person has in their ability to achieve a goal. Research has shown that optimal performance is reached when a person’s self efficacy is slightly above their actual ability, which means that they perform the best when they are in a little over their heads.

So, the question is how do you set goals that are just beyond reach but not so far as to make the goal unattainable?

Unreasonable vs. Unrealistic

As with anything in your new company, finding the balance between aggressive goals (unreasonable) and impossible goals (unrealistic) will require testing. In the early days of decision making, you will set some unrealistic goals, which will backfire, and some unreasonable goals, which will drive your team to do amazing things. The more goals you set, the easier it will be to tell the difference.

However, it will be hard to tell the difference if you lack faith in your team because you will question whether your goals are unrealistic or if your team is not pushing themselves hard enough. This is one reason why you should never compromise on the quality of your team, especially in the early days of the company. You should never waste time wondering if your team is working as hard as possible.

Don’t fear setting unrealistic goals because it is part of building a company, but beware of setting too many of them. Strive to be unreasonable.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by r. nial bradshaw

About the author: Sean Byrnes

Sean is the founder of Flurry, the leader in advertising and analytics services for mobile applications. He is currently an advisor, mentor and angel investor in the San Francisco bay area. You can read more of his advice and thoughts on building businesses on Sean On Startups and his personal website.

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