Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 12, 2018
What do you do after you score a touchdown? After the players do a double Dutch dance or pretend to be bowling down their teammates, the next thing they do is — they relax. Studies show that after a “personal best,” you take a break. You settle back.
Achieving a personal best in any effort does not always spur you to even greater heights. In fact, according to Etan Green, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, what it does is depress you (at least for a while) and potentially de-motivate you. This fascinates me, because I see it when a company gets a significant round of financing from a tier one venture capitalist. First, they are ecstatic, because they think that getting the financing was the goal. (It is only the starting point; the goal is to build a company). The round closed, the dinner was terrific and the pro-forma is pointed straight up. Second, they are terrified. How exactly are we going to deliver on that pro-forma since we know that the numbers are a little (wildly) optimistic? Third, they get depressed. We got funded, but the investors are going to figure it out soon enough and either fire me or sue me. How am I going to get out of this mess? I should have gone to medical school, OY!
And so we have the nuanced science of how to deal with a personal best. Green says, “quantitative performance measures help us think about how to develop goals to push us to become better.” Not always. I remember getting a B — in music — and I was deeply depressed. Why? Because I needed a B+ to get a better overall average so that my parents would increase my allowance. (I have been in therapy ever since). If I ever meet Steinway in a dark alley .…
Green says goals are tricky. They can be motivating. “If you are just short of a goal, you are going to put in extra effort to get there, but once you surpass it, you take your foot off the gas pedal,” he says. The problem for the entrepreneur is that they keep moving the goal posts, so you can never stop and feel that you have achieved it. I tell my clients that they must remember to celebrate the small successes. For example, you get some angel financing, but you know that you will still need an A round.
After a major financing, entrepreneurs tend to slow down, rather than push harder. The next goal appears to be too far away, too unattainable. Entrepreneurs often have this tendency when they have had an exit. They are one and done. I am not going back out there and going through that again. We are afraid that it was luck and we can never do it again. The imposter syndrome.
Now, let’s explore the idea of ratings. Think of this in all areas of the Internet — dating, LinkedIn searches, Facebook likes, invitations to speak etc. The human being wants to be desired. We play the game to increase our “ratings.” I found recently that I was not invited to an event where I felt I certainly belonged, so I rationalized that I would have hated being there anyway.(Therapy does not solve all problems).
But the great ones in any field, particularly in sports, burn with a different flame in terms of competition. They press harder while most of us stop playing. But some, like John Elway, make a choice to leave at the top of their game, called the “quitting while you are ahead” syndrome, when you just drop the mic and walk off the stage.
One place this concept plays out is — should we sell the company, take our chips off the table and go to Cabo, or should we press on for a bigger exit and risk that we fall on our face? Then we remember the classic story of Point Cast Network turning down $450 million from Rupert Murdoch only to sell for $7 million 18 months later.
Green says that people are motivated by achieving their personal best. But in the final analysis, the key is setting the right goal — for the right reason. It is not just the infamous 10,000 hours in the saddle, it needs to be the right saddle on the right horse.
Rule No. 552: Giddyup.