Pretend for a minute that you died a failure. And don’t define “failure” using the expectations set by your overbearing parents, a boss, or anyone else. I mean a failure in your own eyes. What would make you disappointed in the way your life turned out? Are there key milestones you wish you had accomplished? Things you regret not doing?
I call this doing a “pre-mortem.” Choose something you really want to see succeed, and imagine a world in which it failed. Then, come up with all the ways you could have prevented that from happening in advance. This process should help provide clarity on exactly what you need to do next.
The pre-mortem works wonders for life decisions, of course, but it’s especially useful for entrepreneurs. We know that at any given moment, there are innumerable things we’re not doing. So whatever we do decide to do ought to be worth our time — and a business pre-mortem can help you formulate those critical next steps.
Here’s how to conduct your own:
Step #1: Identify mid-to-long-term business goals.
To succeed, we have to figure out what we want to accomplish in the mid-to-long term in order to ruthlessly prioritize the most important steps to help us get there. A “pre-mortem” isn’t limited to lifelong goals. If you’re a founder or CEO, think about your company failing. What could cause it to go under? What can you do to prevent that now?
Perhaps zoom in a little closer the present day. How might a big, upcoming partnership go wrong? What about a product launch, the next feature release, or even an important meeting?
Step #2: Be brutally honest with yourself.
Being brutally honest with yourself is a personal challenge. You have to figure out what scares you and where there are weaknesses in what you’re doing. One thing I’ve always found to be true is that if something is hard for me to admit about myself, my team, or my product, it’s probably because I secretly know there’s a weakness there.
Strength never hides. If you don’t force yourself to root out your weaknesses, you might never confront them. Knowing your own weaknesses is unnerving; it causes you to realize your own fallibility. It’s quite a bit easier to keep your head down, work tirelessly, and never stop to ask whether you’re even working on the right things.
Step #3: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The truth is, for every single thing you’re good at, there’s someone out there who’s better. You’re not the best at anything, and you probably never will be. Once you accept this and you become comfortable with being uncomfortable, you’ll be ready to take risks — anything less, and you’re doing yourself a disservice. Otherwise, you’ll continue avoiding certain challenges that scare you, because that’s where you have the greatest risk of failing.
Entrepreneurs can’t afford to be afraid to fail or they will miss out on the biggest opportunities of their lives. Failure is not something to fear, but regret certainly is.
Step #4: Let go of sunk costs.
After conducting your pre-mortem, you may very well realize you’ve been going down the wrong path, or that you just spent a lot of time and energy working on something you no longer think is the right thing to do. Well, you have to let it go. It’s a sunk cost. You might feel attached to the work you already did, that you “owe” something to it or the people involved with the project, but you don’t.
The reality: Every day, you choose what baggage to carry with you. Holding on when you ought to let go is far more costly than switching to a new idea. As an entrepreneur, you’re tasked with trying to anticipate the future, and the best way to do that is to create it. But you won’t create a better future if you’re stuck in the past.
Are you ready to make business decisions with a clear conscience and no regrets? Then go ahead: Fake your own death, and be prepared for the fight of your life.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.