Tom Dekan

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Turning dread into a compass

How to use the fear of failure as a guide towards the right business actions

Today, I feel a weird sense of dread about starting a new product. I feel like a heavy cruise ship being pushed forward, struggling to gather momentum. Other activities, like going for a run or publishing some content, present themselves to me as things that I should do instead.

This sense of dread regarding business activities is odd. I want to understand it. Here’s me figuring it out.

Where I’m feeling dread:

  • Messaging people to arrange calls to discuss a product
  • Building the promising startup idea that has made it through my selection process

Observations of when I’m feeling this dread:

  • All contain the possibility of clear failure (e.g., arrange no outreach calls; no one wants the product; no one is receptive to the product in call)
  • These are activities that can lead to high revenue

Understanding the sense of dread regarding starting a new business

The mental effects of failure

This seems strange to me. I don’t consciously feel concerned by failing. Logically, I can always start anew.

But, humans are not emotionless state machines. Whatever we do leaves emotional residue that influences our willingness to do similar tasks in the future. Feeling unsuccessful creates emotional resistance against attempting that action again.

Negative responses create emotional resistance against repeating an action.1 If someone reacts very negatively to your product, or barks at you for messaging them, they create some emotional resistance in you against doing the same action.

This is the problem to overcome. The other person may be completely wrong or your product could really help them. The challenge is to continually destroy your internal walls of mental resistance.

Although it’s not obvious to me, my mind is working to minimize failure. In this way, my mind is working to protect itself from failing, causing me to feel dread at the prospect of doing important business activities.

More specifically, I feel dread regarding the activities that will validate or invalidate a promising business idea. These activities will reveal whether the idea can mature into a high-revenue-generating business.

In contrast, if I don’t do these validation activities, each promising idea will always have the positive potential to be a successful business. It will never be an unsuccessful business.

Overcoming a scarcity mindset regarding business ideas

I also feel an element of the scarcity mindset here. If the validation actions show that the idea is no good, I will need to find another promising idea. It took me some time to find this promising idea: will I be able to find another idea that is as promising?

The answer is ABSOLUTELY YES.
1. Promising ideas arise from the process.
2. The number of things that I can build to solve important problems for people is gigantic.
A scarcity mindset regarding promising ideas is irrational. The number of high-revenue businesses that I could build is gigantic.

Also, my process for noticing business ideas has produced multiple promising ideas in the past, including multiple products that I have sold/made money (Redstone HR $20k + $8k), Northstar (first contract for $5k, multiple other queued customers), Amazing Photos ($1.5k), NBA ($9k). These are relatively small sums, but all of these products:

  1. Were profitable
  2. Originated from promising ideas that resulted from me and my process

So, how can I use the sense of dread feeling?

How to use a sense of dread as a business compass

  1. Recognise: Get into the habit of explicitly recognising the sense of dread
  2. Navigate towards: Deliberately move towards business activities where I feel this sense of dread.

In entrepreneurship, there is no predetermined path due to its nature of creating new things (which is exciting). I can use these feelings of dread to guide me toward important business actions. The point is that, rather than being a form of resistance, the dread can serve as a compass, indicating business actions I should do.

  1. E.g., B.F Skinner on operant conditioning