Who Is This Murphy Guy?

Suppose you are an entrepreneur who is seeking start-up funding for a terrific idea you have. You do your homework and put together a solid business plan. Market research shows a lot of upside. Then you pitch your idea to a group of investors and hear the following observations, “I’m concerned that it would be very easy for a competitor to take this idea and run with it faster than you will.” Or, “you are projecting revenues to grow at a 25% rate per quarter for the first three years. Do you seriously believe this can be accomplished?” And finally, “your burn rate seems pretty low – in my experience a rate double what you suggest would seem more appropriate.” What do these statements and questions represent? If you said “skepticism,” you are correct.

Skepticism can be a healthy thing for entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike. In 1987, Ronald Reagan made his famous “trust but verify” statement about a treaty with the then-Soviet Union. This is a great guidepost for us where skepticism is kept in a positive perspective. Part of advancing new ideas is to have them challenged. A lot of questions are to be expected, many of which may be doubting in nature. This is good – if our ideas can survive rigorous scrutiny and we can provide evidence that is sufficient to prove our case, everyone wins.

There’s a very fine line between the kind of skepticism that is all about looking for answers or proof, and that which questions veracity or integrity. When others become suspicious of our motives, we’ve entered dangerous territory for now we’re on the border of “cynicism.” Cynics suspect that others are motivated by self-interest and at times exhibit varying degrees of paranoia. When cynicism exists in an organization it’s like a cancer. The attitude of a cynic is negative. I believe that cynics are related to Murphy – you know, the Murphy of Murphy’s Law . . . anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Cynics are often denigrating, disapproving, apprehensive, sarcastic, and like to run other people down. You can see why cynics and their cynicism are so unproductive for any organization or institution.

Let’s juxtapose the skeptic and the cynic in our previous example of the start-up seeking funding. I already provided statements and questions that might have been made from a skeptical point of view. Now, here is what the cynic might say. “This idea is unoriginal and doesn’t stand a chance to succeed. Why are you pitching this to us? I’ll bet you’re going to take our money; buy a few computers; have a big party; shut down your company, and leave us holding the bag!” Not one positive thing was said there. And all of the various cynical tendencies were on full display – sarcasm, suspicion, bitterness, paranoia, and disapproval. Sure this may be a bit over-dramatized. But the illustration shows the stark contrast that is important to understand.

We need to maintain a certain dose of skepticism lest we suffer too large a degree of naïveté. Skepticism can be difficult for some entrepreneurs. We are optimists and have powerfully positive mindsets. There may be times when we aren’t interested in looking at the downside of our ideas. That’s why it’s critical that we have people on our team who exhibit a higher level of skepticism. And we must give them permission to prod and probe while expressing their skepticism in a constructive manner. Skeptics serve the entrepreneur well as a counterbalance to wild, pie-in-the-sky unrealistic notions. On the other hand, we must constantly be on the lookout for cynics and eliminate them when they surface.

Embracing healthy skepticism helps to build a better and more sustainable organization. Denying cynicism before it takes root is equally important to the long-term success of whatever it is that we are pursuing.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 63 – Go Away – We’re Closed!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Last Word

My daughter, son-in-law and their brood visited a fairly affluent Sunbelt community recently. They saw a lot of luxury cars, expensive jewelry, pricey condos and homes along with some monster yachts. I asked my son-in-law what surprised him the most about his experience and his response was not what I expected. He had several encounters with obviously well-to-do people that were less than pleasant.

In one instance he was preparing to pull into a parking place at a tony shopping center and a man tried to bull his way into the same space. I witnessed the incident and my son-in-law clearly was in the right. Yet the man berated him for not ceding the parking spot. There were other instances where people were pushy, impatient and downright rude. My son-in-law is still learning how to take these kinds of situations in stride. Instead of ignoring the bad behavior of others he chose to retort with his sarcastic wit.

There are a couple of lessons here for entrepreneurs and everyone in general. One of the wonderful benefits of entrepreneurship is the opportunity to gain substantial material wealth. And as our bank account grows we may want to enjoy the fruits of our labor in the form of an upscale lifestyle. Long ago I adopted the philosophy that the “bigger” we get the more humble we become. By “bigger” I am referring to wealth, success, power and station in life. In other words, I would never want someone to identify me from a socio-economic standpoint by the way I act.

Unfortunately there are those who think that their ascension to the riches they have accumulated entitles them to inhabit a special place in society. Metaphorically speaking they think it’s their right to go to the head of the line. Graciousness gives way to boorishness and snobbishness. There’s a very simple way to combat this attitude and prevent it from happening to us. My formula goes like this – I look to the person on my right and the person on my left and realize that I’m no better and no worse than either of those individuals. And, nothing I’ve done and nothing I will do will ever make me any better. Our true bounty comes from within – not from external sources. How we treat others is far more important than the price tag on any of our possessions.

The second lesson is that of how to respond to the kind of behavior I previously described. It’s a natural human reaction to be a bit defensive when we believe someone is attacking us. We want to stand our ground, and perhaps we even want to walk away as the winner of the bout. Newsflash – there is no victor when we engage in tit-for-tat. Sarcasm or verbal jabs may produce a momentary feeling of vindication but to what end? Did the other person change his or her mind? Did we actually solve the problem?

How should we respond? After sixty some-odd years I still remember my mother’s advice to “be the bigger person.” So I’m pretty much done fighting with people. Instead, when I find myself in situations like my son-in-law experienced I say two simple words . . . “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t matter if I’m 100% right, I say “I’m sorry.” At that point the other person doesn’t know what to say. They realize that anything more is pointless and the situation is quickly defused. I can’t say that I am able to react this way every time, but it’s more often than not.

We have an opportunity to become more modest and unpretentious as we achieve more success in our lives. And with it comes eliminating the propensity to have the last word in confrontational situations.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.