Don’t let success bias kill your dreams

A new bias threatens business owners and start-ups. It skews their expectations about the potential to succeed. You must beat it, if you want to make it.

An interesting thing has happened to businesses in the the last few years.

They all succeed. And seemingly with amazing ease.

Wherever you look, you find stories about businesses which have conquered the world.

Or at least a small part of it.

The business owners didn’t even have to work hard to get there. Success apparently just fell into their lap.

So starting a new business and turning it into a success must be easy, right?

Success comes easy

The stories say so, and so do the Internet gurus.

If you build it they will come, the gurus say, and offer you their services to put you on the right path.

Why not hire a virtual assistant in the Philippines who does all the hard work for you, for next to nothing?

They’ll even help you hire one. For a recurring fee, of course.

Believing in success stories can set you up for failure. Click To Tweet

There is just one small problem.

This bright world painted by success stories and online gurus is a lie.

For every business that succeeds, hundreds fail.

We just don’t hear about them.

Because nothing sells better than success, and no one wants to hear about failures.

Not even you.

But if you truly want to succeed, you should.

Because believing these stories sets you up for failure.

I call it success bias.

The belief that we are entitled to succeed.

No matter what.

Success bias makes us believe we are entitled to succeed

All the stories about successful businesses have skewed our view of the world.

We have started to believe that success is the norm.

Not failure.

We don’t hear about failures anymore.

We don’t even care, if the claimed success in a story is real. Or if it was made up to impress journalists, bloggers, investors and customers. Or built on a mountain of unsustainable debt.

We take it at face value.

And of course, just like fairy tales, the stories always make us believe in a happily ever after.

Because that’s what we want most of all.

Happily ever after

But what’s the reality?

When you start out to run your own business, you have every right to want to succeed.

What’s the point in starting out, if not even you believe you can do it?

But there is no guarantee you will.

Statistically the cards are stacked against you.

Especially if you believe you can do it with little or no work.

So it’s up to you to restack your cards by changing your attitude.

That’s how you end up on the winning side.

With the right attitude your chances to succeed in business will skyrocket. Click To Tweet

The truth is that most successes are based on hard work, dedication and tenacity, when you look at them more closely.

Often the owner of a successful business has failed a number of times before finally getting it right.

But you wouldn’t know it from reading about these successes.

And that’s a problem.

If you believe everyone is successful the first time, you are not ready for the hard times ahead.

Success bias leads us to believe we are:

  1. far more likely to be successful than reality dictates
  2. that it will take much less work than it does
  3. that our success will be much bigger than realistic

Success bias makes even reasonable people believe they will succeed with little effort.

After all, that’s what the world around us is telling us.

It ignores facts and gives the owners of start-ups and even existing business a false sense of reality.

Owners of new businesses start out with a false sense of entitlement.

Owners of existing businesses wonder what they are doing wrong and what is stopping them from hitting the big time.

As a result success bias kills businesses and creates depressed business owners.

Either the going gets too tough, compared with the original expectations.

Or the expectations of what success should look like are way too high.

It’s a  matter of attitude

So should you give up already?

No way.

But you must open your eyes wide and review your attitude to improve your chances to succeed.

Because among the failures are many who never gave their best.

Here is a quick example from my past which pictures how the right attitude can take you a long way.

In my early twenties I studied at the Henri Nannen School of Journalism in Germany. The country’s most highly regarded education centre for journalists.

Before I applied I found out that more than 30,000 people applied every year for 16 available places.

Making the chances to succeed appear intimidatingly tiny.

But were my chances really so small?

Not at all.

Here is what happened:

  1. More than 30,000 people sent in a letter to apply for a place
  2. The school asked all applicants to write a news story for review to whittle down the applicants to the top 100.
  3. Around 25,000 or so applicants never bothered sending in a news article. That was just too hard.

Of the rest many fell by the wayside because they incorrectly completed the task. Or they didn’t take it serious enough.

So just by addressing the task correctly and putting in my best effort, I vastly improved my chances to reach the top 100.

Then luck struck, and the school decided to take in 32 applicants for the first time, improving my chances even further.

What did I learn from this?

  • You can’t succeed if you don’t go for it
  • You won’t succeed if you don’t put in your best effort
  • Luck won’t help you unless you are in the right position
  • Being successful doesn’t mean you have to be number one

The same applies if you want to set up a businesses selling online, for example.

Your competition gives up when the going gets tough

The vast majority of people are too scared to start their own business.

And if they do, they don’t really commit.

They stick their toe into the water and quickly pull it out, when they realize the water is too cold. Or too hot. Or not quite right. Or that they actually have to swim, once they get in.

If you are serious about your success, these are not your competitors.

The next lot dives in deeper.

But they suffer from success bias.

They expect success to come easy. They don’t put in the hard work required and give up, as soon as they think the going gets too tough.

At least compared to what they expected.

Then there are those who know it’s hard to make it, and who are prepared to do what it takes.

They don’t give up at the first hurdle. Or at the second.  And they vastly improve their chance to succeed by doing so.

Where do you fit in?

You have to decide where you fit in.

Only you can overcome success bias and commit to making a real effort.

You are the one who has to deal with the problems you will encounter and the obstacles to overcome.

And you are the one who has to decide what success means to you.

Because success isn’t just about hitting the big time.

Success isn't just about hitting the big time. Click To Tweet

Yes, creating Facebook was a success.

But so is:

  • Selling your first T-shirt to a total stranger
  • Boosting your income
  • Fulfilling your first wish with profits from your business
  • Generating enough income to support yourself
  • Supporting a family
  • Supporting the employees at your business and their families
  • Insert your dream …

I still remember how excited I was when I received my first online order.

Or how I was jumping up and down in a hotel room in Las Vegas during the COMDEX Computer show, after receiving a phone call from the Netherlands securing our first deal worth over $100,000.

But success isn’t a final destination, it is a combination of many successful steps which put you on the right path.

Measure success sensibly

Not all your steps will be right.

But as long as more steps are right than wrong, you are on the path to success.

Of course, sometimes you will have to acknowledge failure and move on to something else.

But that’s alright, too.

That’s life in the real world, without success bias.

Be honest to yourself and analyse if you really have put in your best efforts.

What you could have done differently, and what not.

Then decide what to do next.

Because realizing when a problem can not be overcome is a success, too.

No matter what your next step is, make sure to give it your best.

Then you won’t have to compare your successes to hundreds of failures.

Instead you’ll have lots of successes, all moving you forward towards a bigger success.

Because real success isn’t just measured in money or in running a big business.

It’s measured in your satisfaction at achieving your goals.

If everything works out, the money will follow.

All the best,


P.S.: Of course there are success stories that inspire and help propel you forward. Not every story trivializes or ignores the process of becoming successful. But that’s for another time.

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