I used to take an adult hockey class. Each session started with all of us facing the boards and skating backwards on the instructor’s whistle. We were all supposed to stop on a second whistle; then the instructor grouped students by how far they had skated in the limited time.
(This is a picture of Bret Hedican of the Carolina Hurricanes. Arguably, one of the best skaters in the NHL, Macintosh user, and heckuva nice guy.)
The instructor was trying to group people of similar skill levels for a more efficient learning environment. However, I made the case to him that by grouping people in this way, the folks in the slower groups (like me) learned that we sucked, and our heads got filled with negative thoughts. As a result, we performed worse than we (theoretically) could have for the rest of the class. Of course the instructor ignored my brilliant insight—after all, he’s from Minnesota and I’m from Hawaii.
Recently I read “The Choke Factor: How Stereotypes Affect Performance” which analyzes how stereotypes compromise performance—particularly of negatively stereotyped groups. For example if female students are told that women are stereotypically worse in math immediate before a math test, then they score lower in the test.
The theory is that by making a group aware of their stereotype, you can introduce “enhanced cognitive load.” Instrusive and negative thoughts cause a load that interrupts and harms performance. What do you think will happen when (not if) you are told that you don’t know how to run a company? Entrepreneurs—like wannabe hockey players and female math-test takers—should heed the scientific underpinnings of choking and the impact of negative stereotypes.
Here’s what you can do to avoid choking:
Avoid negative people. This refers to the folks who are likely to express the negative stereotype that first-time entrepreneurs don’t know what to do. (This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to avoid venture capitalists because they never tell you what they really think.) Certainly you should avoid “proven” older entrepreneurs who don’t remember how clueless they were when they were “your age” and now consider themselves experts.
Ignore the people you cannot avoid. As George Orwell should have said, “Ignoring is bliss.” If you think about what they said, it could lead to what they said, so figuring out what to ignore is as important as what to listen to. The best way to ignore negative people is to bury yourself in your work—to prototype like hell. When I’m writing, nothing enters my brain but the need to eat and pee—and sometimes not even that.
Invoke positive stereotypes. Positivity can enhance performance according to the article—it’s “fighting fire with fire” as the saying goes. For example, entrepreneurs could invoke the positive stereotype that a couple of guys/gals who love technology and aren’t “proven” entrepreneurs can start companies like Apple, Yahoo!, Google, YouTube, and Facebook. Perhaps this is one reason that Silicon Valley rocks as a place for young people to start companies: the wunderkind stereotype is a very positive one here.
Frame, or reframe, yourself. Finally, you can control how strongly you identify with any social group. For example, you don’t have to identify with “first-time entrepreneurs.” You could more strongly define yourself in terms of being a mom, dad, wife, husband, scholar, programmer, marketer, or whatever works for you. Or, in my hockey experience, not as a lousy beginning skater, but a 53-year-old guy from Hawaii whose peers are mostly playing golf if they are exercising at all.
Addendum: Several readers have pointed out the work of Carol Dweck regarding how one’s mindset can affect performance. Duh, I wrote about her and linked to a video of her. And here is a Scientific American piece that she authored. (Thanks to Mitch and Luke Burton.)
Once again. It makes sense.
Puh-leeze. This is the old and tired “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”. Put yourself in a bubble, ignore reality because some of it is negative and voila! you’re on the road to success.
I’ve seen and worked with too many companies with a similar philosophy. And none of them were very successful.
You can’t address your problems unless you acknowledge them. But to know what your problems are, you have to be aware of the weaknesses of your approach.
Go ahead, bury your head in the sand. You won’t see anything bad, you’ll have a rosy outlook on life and you’ll sleep better.
But you also will miss the truck when it runs you over.
From a practical point of view, I totally agree with 3 and 4. 1 and 2 are more difficult to implement.
I don’t take this piece as an encouragement to bury my head in the sand. Quite the opposite. Being a woman, I know that we are still bombarded with stereotypes and have to fight them, even though the general PC mood nowadays means that few people are willing to admit it.
Hi Guy, I got to agree with Nadine, success is about confronting convention, yes, working in your own bubble, but also confronting and dealing with issues when they come up.
If you don’t like somebody or they don’t like you, tell them so and move on. Putting your head in the sand is great when you are the last living human on Earth but otherwise, a great way to die a slow death like many other companies have in the past following the philosophy outlined above. If your venture or abilities can’t stand up on their own in the face of challenges, then they aren’t worth much.
@Guy : hope you don’t pee on the ice ;-)
Seriously speaking, about avoiding and/or ignoring “negative” people : for an entrepreneur, a negative comment or feedback often is a positive sign, proving he’s on the right track. That’s why I always do my best to get as much as negative feedback as possible.
Guy – every day I say to myself – “Don’t listen to the Bozos!”
I don’t think that is the same as don’t listen to others and put your head in the sand. It just means there are those people out there that are not good for motivating you – because they feel their value is only in telling you why it won’t work compared to why it will work. I also say this quote every day – “The devil doesn’t need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.” (Seth Godin)
Thanks for a great post.
“The brave need supporters, not critics.” I like that quote – thanks for sharing it, Eric.
This post of Guy’s is about personal performance, and I think it makes huge sense. If you focus on negative feedback, you can quickly become a negative person.
Sure, you can’t avoid or hide from all of it. But a key point Guy makes here is this: “figuring out what to ignore is as important as what to listen to.”
Nice stuff, and thanks for the reference to the Choke Factor article. Malcolm Gladwell has some related information in Blink, his latest. This seems like a really important idea, worth following up. Tim
You HAVE to read MindSet by Carol S. Dweck. Paradoxically telling someone he is bad at something and telling someone he is good at something both contribute to suboptimal performance. Telling someone he is putting in good effort and getting better is what makes for best results.
#4 is so true! Thanks for reminding us that we’re actually (most of the time) better than most of our peers.
There is much more to mindset and choking than a few simple bits of advice. There is entire field of study called performance psychology that takes a systematic approach to performance. You can visit my weblens at http://www.squidoo.com/valdes for a wealth of information about performance psychology. It has links, books, short articles that you will find very helpful. Also, I have a weblens about Failure at http://www.squidoo.com/failure.
Finally, there is a Malcolm Gladwell article in the New Yorker magazine from 2000 called the Art of Failure that has become a classic.
Avoiding choking is to become a student of mindset.
Are you all kidding me? Does Guy seem like a person who would bury his head in the sand like an ostrich or someone who couldn’t take constructive criticism? All he’s saying is that there is no point hanging around naysayers – people who naysay for a living – people who live in fear always and who like company in their fearful world to justify their way of life – people who are by no means revolutionary and don’t contribute much to society other than knocking down other people’s self esteem. The place where this theory is most evident and most detrimental is in elementary schools (I used to teach i the East Palo Alto public school system), where we routinely classify young children as remedial, special ed, etc. This is our future generation, young children who don’t yet have a formed sense of self, who cannot combat this ridiculousness, who fall victim to these foolios and who eventually suffer the consequences for life.
I thought that comment about grouping people into teams based on their skill levels was very interesting. It’s always a counterproductive approach.
“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” – Goethe
There is some truth to this. My boss, a professor, had envisioned two applications that worked a certain way. For years he tried to get programmers to build these applications but the programmers never made them work exactly like he asked because it “wasn’t a good idea,” or some similar reason.
Recently, my boss found someone willing to build the applications just as he envisioned them. They work beautifully, are useful, and have generated a lot of interest. It’s been exciting to see these ideas I’ve heard about for so many years finally come to fruition.
This is old stuff. This factor is better known as the Pygmaliion effect or The Self Fulfilling Prophecy. This concept was developed by Robert K. Merton to explain how a belief or expectation, whether correct or not, affects the outcome of a situation or the way a person (or group) will behave. Thus, for example, labeling someone a criminal, and treating that person as such, may foster criminal behavior in the person who is subjected to the expectation.
The concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy can be summarized in these key principles:
– We form certain expectations of people or events
– We communicate those expectations with various cues.
– People tend to respond to these cues by adjusting their behavior to match them.
– The result is that the original expectation becomes true.
This creates a circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.
The concept also known as the Pygmalion Effect results in a number of corollaries:
· High expectations lead to higher performance; low expectations lead to lower performance
· Better performance resulting from high expectations leads us to like someone more
· Lower performance resulting from low expectations leads us to like someone less
Once formed, expectations tend to be self-sustaining. The best managers (or in your casse, instructors)have confidence in themselves and in their ability to hire, develop and motivate (or teach)people. Largely because of their self-confidence, they communicate high expectations to others.
Very interesting article. Can’t you take in the negative feedback for your benefit though? Instead of avoiding it take it in, while filtering the bad, and use it for your benefit!
As Christine Comaford-Lynch (Rules For Renegades) declares – it’s all an illusion so pick one that empowers you. Easier said than done, but it makes perfect sense. Especially if you’re crazy out of your mind like most of us!
These are the type of posts that brought me to your site. Please continue to discuss these things. I really like your insight and these posts are the ones that really help “Change the world”. Thank you for a great post. I have missed them.
Hanging around negative people does seem to affect performance.
However, there’s nothing wrong with truth (e.g. “don’t start that company – it’s a dumb idea”), but it can be given in a positive context (e.g. “don’t start that company – here are some downfalls that may hurt you in the near-term”).
Thanks, Jason M. Blumer
Thanks for the reminder. And, while some are taking it in the literal sense, the message to me is more of avoiding negative, staying positive and evoking positive. Simple message, sometimes a challenge to apply.
Dude, the most accomplished people in the world are simply indignant. Maxwell Maltz in his insanely popular book ‘PsychoCybernetics’ talks about this. Thomas Edison, Jack Dempsey, Kanye West, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Pasteur, and countless writers, business people, soldiers, religious figures, scientists, teachers, thinkers, and revolutionaries were once told that their idea would never stick.
When someone tries being negative, think ‘[email protected]#k you’ and move on.
I think you are an overgrown child. Opposition is just something people need to realize is always going to be out there and that they just need to ignore it and get over what some douchebag thinks about them. Avoid negative people? who defines what a negative person is anyway-avoid nothing and make your own decisions about yourself.
Hey Guy, Hedican and the Hurricanes might need you on defense…
6-0 loss yesterday to the Senators and 5-2 to Detroit before that.
I linked to a couple of your posts on my blog today. Cheers!
I’d add 5. – Be prepared to be viewed as an a#$hole. As soon as you stop caring about what people w/ fixed mentalities (as ‘Mindset’ puts it) think about you, you become a threat to them since their self esteem is defined by you:them comparisons. Not caring about their opinions comes across like you’ve got the upper hand, so they’ll often respond by attacking you. It’s a good sign when these people think you’re an a-hole.