No one likes hearing "no." By extension, people don't like to dwell on negative outcomes.
The science behind it is simple. As The New York Times reports, we are psychologically wired to believe information that fits our existing belief set (this is called confirmation bias). In the wild, this may manifest as seeking out information that supports your cause or perception. In another set of circumstances, it may mean avoiding situations where you are likely to have the wrong answer or to fail.
The NYT illustrates that point with a puzzle asking users to guess the rule behind a sequence of numbers. They can enter three numbers and check to see if their answer follows the same rule as the example set. It's very difficult to guess a set of numbers that doesn't follow this unspoken rule because (spoiler alert) each number just has to be larger than the number before it.
You can submit multiple sequences before you take a stab at what the rule is, and after each guess, the game will tell you whether or not these numbers follow the mystery rule.
The funny thing? The report states…
- 78 percent of people guessed the answer without getting a single "no" first.
- They didn't want to fail, even if there is no consequence of doing so.
It's an interesting conundrum when applied to business: perhaps the solution to some of the problems you face is much simpler than you might think. You might not realize that until you allow yourself the opportunity to experiment and learn from past mistakes.
On Famous Flops and Making Waves
If every entrepreneur only looked for a "yes" and safe bets, there would be no such thing as Microsoft, Disney, or Apple. A roundup by Entrepreneur states…
- Bill Gates' first company went bust. His product Traf-O-Data, which was meant to analyze the data from traffic tapes, hardly even worked. However, the venture was a prelude to his first Microsoft product, and we all know how that turned out.
- Walt Disney's first animation company went belly up. And before that, a newspaper fired him for lacking creativity. Joke's on them.
- Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. Apple's board of directors gave Jobs the boot, so he launched NeXT, which Apple later acquired. Once back at Apple, Jobs helped reinvent the company's brand. Good thing, too – where would our sleek iPhones be without his eye for minimalism?
Now, if these famous American entrepreneurs were afraid of rejection or didn't try out new ideas, their careers would have been over before they started. Keep that in mind as you move forward – innovation is rarely a smoothly charted course. You will hit roadblocks, and you might even fail. But those failures may spark new ideas that ultimately pay off big time.
How a No Could Turn into a Yes
Another takeaway from the NYT experiment is that going out of your way to get a "no" or contemplating a negative outcome may force you to explore paths and options that could lead to the desired outcome.
It's much more alluring to think about all the ways your business can succeed and look for evidence supporting that outlook. But it's also beneficial to consider the ways it might fail so you can plan for how to bounce back.
In the insurance world, that worst-case scenario planning is called risk management. And a little planning and forethought can go a long way toward getting your business back on its feet when setbacks happen. For example…
- A data breach response plan can help limit damage and pay for recovery costs (if you invest in Cyber Liability Insurance).
- Using client contracts may help resolve disputes before they escalate into lawsuits.
- A continuity plan can provide your business with a blueprint for recovery after a natural disaster or disruption. (More on that in "What's Your Business Interruption Plan?")
Planning for potential failures may give your business the edge it needs to succeed, even when things don't go exactly how you desired. Maybe this thinking and planning will even help you avoid mistakes and setbacks from the start.
Need more help embracing obstacles? Read "5 Things Your Business Can Learn from Successful Marriages."