Morale management for entrepreneurs

by John_Maxwell 1 min read30th Sep 20125 comments

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One of the odd things about the procrastination equation is that part of it resembles an expected value calculation: value * expectancy.  Why does the equation's numerator present a problem at all then, if it's just the expected value of what you're trying to do?  Shouldn't that be the main factor in your motivation anyway?

One answer: In lukeprog's post, he conflates the "value" that task presents intrinsically (how much you enjoy doing it), and possible extrinsic motivators (some reward you hope to achieve after the task is completed).  So part of the reason your motivation system is miscalibrated is because not all valuable tasks are proportionately enjoyable.

But today I thought of another answer: Your subconscious expected value calculation may be falling prey to biases that aren't affecting your conscious expected value calculation.  Thus you correctly assign the task a high value consciously, but subconsciously, a particular bias may be bringing your estimate off.

Paul Graham writes:

Morale is tremendously important to a startup—so important that morale alone is almost enough to determine success. Startups are often described as emotional roller-coasters. One minute you're going to take over the world, and the next you're doomed. The problem with feeling you're doomed is not just that it makes you unhappy, but that it makes you stop working.

Let's pretend that we were running a betting market for your startup's chance of success.  If you and your cofounders are the only people in the market, you could picture the value of a contract in this market fluctuating up and down wildly.  But if you let others play in the market, there's an obvious money-making strategy: take the average of recent fluctuations.  Whenever the price fluctuates below that average, buy.  Whenever it fluctuates above that average, sell.  You and your cofounders can expect to lose a lot of money playing this market, at least early on in your startup's life.

The point I'm trying to make here is that this "emotional roller coaster" represents a kind of irrationality on the part of entrepreneurs.  And fixing this irrationality, especially in a way that hooks in to your motivation system and changes the numerator of your internal procrastination equation, could be very valuable for them.

One idea for a bias that contributes to this effect is the availability heuristic.  This suggests that your subconscious rates very recent, "available" events related to your startup higher than earlier less "available" events.  To fix this, you might be able to try to bring to mind older, less "available" data that suggests your startup will be successful and make it more salient.

Another possible bias is simple overconfidence.  It's really very difficult to know in advance whether your startup should succeed, so if you're either very bullish or very bearish, you're probably overconfident.  A common path to startup success seems to be discovering some fact about the market you're in that lets you re-make your business as something much better.  Since it's hard to predict the discovery of such facts in advance, it's hard to say much about how you will do.

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