Great entrepreneurs successfully walk that very fine line between level-headed rationality and…
…utter, charming, frustrating, and complete delusion.
The most successful entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, are so because of their delusions, not in spite of them.
Delusion is defined by Webster as “an idiosyncratic belief that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of a mental disorder.”
In many ways, the best entrepreneurs are like children, being assured of things coming to pass that have an extremely small probability of doing so.
As a little league baseball coach, I so charmingly see this on the ball field with my young players – no matter how small or slow or lacking in hand-eye coordination they might be – so innocently being assured in their self-belief that they will be the next Mike Trout, the next big star.
Similarly – and no matter how old they might be – the best entrepreneurs maintain a steadfast and unshakeable faith that they are immune, above, and separate from the discouraging probability curves of business success and longevity.
Now, so importantly, while all great entrepreneurs are delusional, by no means are all those who are delusional great entrepreneurs.
And it is in this distinction that the more level-headed among us can model and emulate how the great entrepreneurs-the Musks, the Jobses and the Bezoses, utilize delusion to serve their businesses while…
…not trying to be someone they are not, nor be counted among the foolish that believe that “faith alone” will propel them to breakout success.
This fine line is best distinguished in the difference between business strategy and business tactics.
In the former, delusion is almost always helpful, while in the latter, it is almost always crushingly self-defeating.
Great business strategy is focused on big picture vision, product and service benefits to customers, and company culture, and is best approached from a place of and with the strong spirit of possibility.
Possibility is the realm where the very belief of things coming to pass has a profound and meaningful impact on their actually doing so – or for that matter of them being even conjured or dreamed up in the first place.
This can include a business possibility like growing sales by a 10X factor over the next few years via providing customers with extraordinarily high quality products and service, and enabled by a company culture attractive, admired and emulated by all those who touch and come into contact with it.
Visions and goals like these sprout from those human qualities best demonstrated again, by children.
A sense of wonder, of the feeling that we are in fact special and destined for great and inspirational things and experiences.
This is the world of the supernatural, of the transcendent, mythical, and heroic.
And like in the science fiction that many of us love so much – remarkable, improbable, magical things, thoughts and feelings are created and experienced.
Like the development of the personal computer.
Or flying cars.
Or a cure for cancer.
Or, on a more mundane, but not less profound level, the building of a profitable, growing business, a company at which many good people love to work and with monies earned build and support their families and communities.
All of these beautiful business things are only possible with, against the odds and reasonable belief, one or several courageous souls delusionally dreaming and willing them into being.
This is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to build and sustain a real business.
No to do this, and not just live in that dewey, but ultimately imaginary world of children, of dilettantes, of hot air merchants and purveyors of nothingness…
…well this requires the delusional dreams and visions be referenced and remembered daily yes, but only briefly so, and then with the vast majority of the business day being given over to hard, rational, intense, consistent, incremental, and repetitive work.
The key insight is that we don’t have to choose between flighty, crazy delusion…
…and “it is what it is” cold-eyed realism and spirited hard work.
We should, must, and can easily have both.
So let’s honor the delusional among us, and feed and nurture the delusion in all of us.
But let’s do the same for the heads-down plotters, for the conservative, calculated risk takers, for the “lunch pail” workers that just go to work every day.
They are both beautiful and admirable in their own way.
And completely and necessarily complementary.
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