"Entrepreneurship is about jumping and building on the way down" is an aphorism frequently thrown around in startup circles.
While the words are inspiring and make you think of the intelligent innovators and risk-takers who changed the world in some small way, the idea that every entrepreneur can jump into the unknown and still do well is dangerous.
It gives people an illusion that all entrepreneurs are invincible and that if they try hard enough, they can't fail. But we've all seen the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stats that show that 20% of small businesses fail in their first year and about 50% fail in their fifth year - a very different outcome indeed from the aphorism about jumping and building a plane.
The aphorism also encourages a culture of "survivorship bias," which focuses on the people who did well after taking a leap of faith. But what about all the people who failed to build the plane, who crashed and burned? The truth is that for every great entrepreneur who took a risk and made a parachute while falling, countless others didn't have as much luck. Were they not smart? Did they need to work harder? Were they not brave enough?
The aphorism doesn't reveal the truly chaotic and random journey of every entrepreneur, despite all the business planning, forecasting, and crystal balling. A lot of things can happen on the way down.
Wild leaps of faith are essential in life. But there's a difference between a calculated risk and a reckless gamble. Unfortunately, all too often, we'll jump from the comfort of a day job and go 'all in' believing that our new venture will somehow miraculously succeed. Unfortunately, these types of "jumps" are not sustainable in life. Often, the bigger the jump, the more complex the fall. You may end up burned out. Or worse, you may never recover from a failure that big.
Get rid of this dangerous mantra and forget the heroics. Instead, the intelligent move involves taking a "small bets" approach - iterating, experimenting, learning, and adapting in tiny ways, considering the possible outcomes and their likelihood of success, and assessing whether the upside is more significant than the downside. You'll live a lot longer that way.
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