'Silent Killers of Business Success'
- Ram V. Iyer
Many people seek business success but few achieve it. Everyone wants a high income and great wealth but few achieve either. Depending on whose numbers you believe, between 65% and 80% of all businesses in America fail within 10 years. And, most people who enter business fail but people avoid ‘seeing it’ and most believe it is the ‘other guy/gal’ who will fail. Millions of businesses stay small and die young (because of some of the reasons listed below). Out of 28 million businesses in America, 22 million have NO employees! Millions who do fail in business ‘disappear’ into full-time jobs in companies or become solopreneurs barely making ends meet. Few achieve the spectacular success they are capable of, read about or dream about. There are a set of BIG underlying reasons - all 'obvious' and 'common sense' - and THEY CAN BE 'FIXED'.
Whether you are seeking business success or greater business success, are you finding your LIMITED SUCCESS?
- Do you feel you have hit a ceiling and can’t achieve greater success?
- Are you a business owner whose revenues have ‘hit a wall’ and you cannot figure out why you cannot grow it?
- Are you trying to make more money and feel something holding you back, but you can’t put your finger on it?
- Are you achieving limited business success and wondering why?
- As an executive, do you get passed by for promotions with greater business responsibilities?
Do you feel that you are facing repeated FAILURE?
- Do you have an MBA but unsuccessful in business?
- Are you smart but unsuccessful in business?
- Are you from a non-business family or background and having difficulty developing a 'business mindset'?
- Are you full of great ideas but unable to monetize them?
- Do you have pedigreed credentials but unsuccessful in business?
- Are you one of the 20 million solopreneurs struggling to make ends meet in your business?
The causes of business failure and limited success are obvious and common sense, except that many people do not do what is obviously necessary and commonsense appears to be uncommon. People see it and know it – when you point them out or explain them – but seem to pay little attention to them while in business. When they ‘hit a wall’ or fail, they don’t look at the common sense reasons for failure first, instead looking at external reasons and look to the experts for answers. I guess it is easier to point at some external factor than look inward.
With over 70% of all businesses in America failing, most academics, experts and ‘gurus’ are focused on the external causes of failure – factors such as lack of capital, technology, team members, etc. While external factors are potential causes of failure (which have been studied and ‘addressed’ for years) the failure rate of businesses and business people has not changed much. That begs a logical question – Are we 'solving' the wrong problems by throwing more money, technology, people and consulting dollars while the bigger causes of failure are elsewhere?
What are these uncommon sense reasons that seem to cause much of the failure? Let me give you a heads up. You will probably recognize all of them and wonder what the big deal is – you already know them and believe that everybody else does as well. However it is the indifference to these problems that are big reasons for business failure.
'Common sense' and 'obvious' are not as commonly obvious as you might think.
Let’s take a look at what may be impeding your business success:
Firstly, success is often predicted by experts and pundits based on WHAT YOU POSSESS (your strengths and assets) and failure is predicted by WHAT YOU LACK (your weaknesses and liabilities). Few people predict failure based on what you have that could impede or guarantee your failure. For example, if your passion is be a great engineer (but not a business person), you have the wrong kind of desire to succeed in business but get told by most people that you can succeed in business with hard work.
There is no barrier for people wanting to to start a business – irrespective of whether the person loves business, has the relevant education, skills, experience, business savvy, etc. I label their attributes as ‘bad ingredients' and 'wrong ingredients’ for business success - they can make it difficult (or impossible) for you to be successful in business. Many people in business are not suited for the business profession. They are not bad people, just a mismatch for a business career.
Secondly, the success factors generally considered are external ones like lack of business education, capital, technology, team, location, etc. Those may be your impediments but few people look at the internal factors – those inside your head. It is like dressing a horse jockey in an authentic NBA uniform and expecting NBA-level performance.
Everything becomes OBVIOUS once somebody else points it out
Business success starts in your head long before the opportunities and resources appear. If you have bad and wrong ingredients, you are destined to achieve limited success or failure. While this list is not exhaustive, it lists some of the biggest 'bad and wrong ingredients' I have found.
1. Assuming Success - leading to arrogance and complacency.
Getting into business is easy and therefore many people believe that succeeding is easy as well. Many assume success because of their educational pedigree (common), personal view of being very intelligent (there's a difference between being intelligent and having business smarts), financial situation ($), prior business success, family pedigree, etc. Each of these people believes (mistakenly) that their past assures business success. They assume that their business will be among the 30% that survive. Business is blind to all these factors of assumed success and failure is unforgiving and non-discriminating. While self-confidence is good, over-confidence is simply arrogance; then complacency sets in and failure follows.
The combination of arrogance and complacency is a deadly cocktail that dooms many capable people to failure.
Think about exercise. Buying a gym membership is easy – just whip out the credit card. Obviously, a gym membership does not make you fitter or stronger (just as starting a business does not assure success). You know what happens thereafter – most people don’t go the gym and become neither fitter nor stronger. The same happens in business. Starting a business is easy, but succeed in it is not. Of the 28 million or so businesses in America, 22 million have no employees and simply carry a business card that has a CEO title. I suspect most of the 22 million generate little or no revenues. Business success, particularly sustained success, is elusive for most people. In fact, more than 70% of the people who enter business fail, fold up or move on.
Being in business does not guarantee success just as having a brain does not guarantee business smarts.
There are many people who do not have an aptitude for business but seek the benefits of being in business - money, power, status, etc.. Most of these people will simply fail in a matter of time because they have no business being in business or are unready for business. Starting a business is simply the beginning, not the achievement of business success. That false sense of 'accomplishment' can quickly lead to failure because it moves you into the “I have arrived!” mindset which is generally coupled with failure. Business failure is like a wild animal that is always lurking. If you are not on top of your business game, it will simply pounce on you - irrespective of age, wealth, experience, past success and pedigree.
Many people entering business have no business being in business or are unready for business. They can either figure it out before they embark or find out after heartache and ruin.
2. You have an employee mindset.
Many people who struggle in business have an employee mindset. Our traditional upbringing, education system and society still prize the ‘steady job and paycheck’ with a well-known company. By deduction, a person with an employee mindset does not have a business owner’s mindset (mostly the opposite). Yet, many people who start businesses come from the corporate world. Not recognizing, acknowledging or changing the employee mindset while basking in the attention of being a business owner or CEO could be a ‘silent killer of success.’
Many people mistakenly believe that their MBA degree, past successes or job titles, connections, educational pedigree, and wealth from the sale of stock or family wealth will ensure their business success. But business is largely an individual sport and each day stands unto itself. Things like yesterday’s success, connections, capital, education pedigree and such are enablers, not guarantors of today’s business success. Those very ‘positive attributes’ make most of those people unwilling or unlikely to seek help to develop a ‘business mindset’ and business thinking.
3. You have negative views about being in business and about businesses.
Negative views about business and being in business are manifested as beliefs, rules and emotions. For example, if you heard that "Businesses plunder society" repeatedly or had negative experiences that 'confirmed' that view, you will have developed a negative relationship with businesses as well as being in business. When you seek to start or grow a business, you are ‘wired and programmed’ to sabotage your own business success – and you don’t even realize it! Your subconscious mind (where your rules and beliefs manifest themselves) will 'prevent' you from succeeding in business. People with this issue may say, "Business is not for people like me” but still expect to be successful in business. On the other hand, you may hear a successful business person say, "I love being in business."
If you believe businesses plunder society and money is the root cause of evil, your subconscious brain (which makes 60%-80% of all decisions) will hold you back in business and prevent you from making money.
4. You have negative views about money and making money.
If you believe that money is the root cause of all evil, or pursuing money making is a sinful activity, you are ‘wired’ and 'programmed’ to sabotage your own ability to make money. On the other hand, a person with a positive view of making money may say, "I love making money." Every one of us has a 'financial thermostat' - a certain amount of money that we have psychologically decided is adequate for our needs. That is why lottery winners who have a low financial thermostat lose their money within a couple of years unless they 'raise' their financial thermostat. This is the same reason why many private business owners have become 'lifestyle business owners' - their business makes enough money to meet their personal definition of needs (fully-paid off home, vacation home, vacation, whatever..). Once the business provides them that amount of money, they 'stop' growing the business. According to Rob Slee, a widely respected expert on private businesses, about 80% of all private businesses are (intentionally) under-performing. When it comes time to sell the business, a private equity firm often sees the 'upside' that the owner refused to monetize.
5. You are unwilling to leave your 'comfort zone'.
You are unwilling to leave what feels safe to you – doing the same things you have been doing for years. You may say you want to be in business and make lots of money but are unwilling to the things required to succeed in business and make money because that 's not what you are 'used' to doing. Comfort zones are boundaries designed by us for personal safety and comfort. Most people have difficulty leaving their comfort zones or even widening it. Unless you are an accomplished business person (usually experienced), it is highly unlikely that you will succeed without stretching and leaving your comfort zone.
A big reason why people do not leave their comfort zone is a lack of self-confidence. Your self-confidence is your sense of self - belief in your capabilities to perform at the required level, attain goals, learn new skills and achieve your objectives. It is the most important psychological contributor to performance in the business world because even if have all of the ability in the world to accomplish a goal, if you lack confidence in your abilities, you will 'never get out of the gate' - "If you think you can succeed, you could; if you think you cannot, you will definitely not succeed". Fortunately, confidence is a skill that can be progressively developed with awareness and practice.
Pardoxically, most people can accomplish and achieve a lot while in their comfort zone as that is where they exercise the skills they have developed the most (or longest). Growth and, sometime, accomplishment accomplishment occur outside your comfort zone since you do things beyond what you are currently capable of doing. As with most things in life, when to remain and when to step out of your comfort zone is a judgment call only you can make.
"If you think you can succeed, you could; if you think you cannot, you will definitely not succeed".
6. Your true professional passion (what you enjoy doing, good at doing and truly want to do for a very long time) lies in a different career.
You often find somebody who is a tradesperson - a good software developer, good engineer, doctor, carpenter, designer, etc., - who is thrust into business because an opportunity presented itself. They remain 'stuck' in it because of the money (and status?) but constantly tell themselves and their close family and friends that they'd rather NOT be in business. Such a person is 'miserable' being in business and will often not achieve the full potential of the business since their heart is not in it - business is not their passion. A person whose 'true north' is being a business person will say, "I was born to be in business."
There are also 'accidental businesspeople', those who had no intention of getting into business. I know several people who were software engineers that saw a particular unmet need at their employer, quit and met the need by forming an independent company. Their true passion was the technology and to make some quick money. After a while, they got 'stuck' in business. Many of them are largely dependent on one or a few customers for most of their revenues and could die if their personal connections change jobs. Often, they neither have the skills nor the desire to be in business long-term.
7. You have a low desire to be in business or achieve higher success in business.
If you do not have a strong desire to be in business ("I do it only for the money", "It was just handed to me", "I’d rather be doing X" or "I will only work until I make $XXM), your heart will not be in business and that will show in your (level of) engagement and success in business. A person with a strong desire to be in business might say, "I am in business 24 hours a day."
Once your desire is met, you may have limited business success (or end up in failure) since it is not your passion. If you stay, you will not enjoy being in business or adequately prepare to succeed at it - it is a short-term thing, not a lifelong passion.
As an example, for some people, business success may be a desire (desires are finite and are 'satisfied' once the threshold is reached - such as getting to be a $10M company or employing 500 people) but not a passion (generally lifelong). Once they reach the desired goal, they lose interest. A common example of this are 'lifestyle business owners' - owners whose businesses currently generate an adequate income to support the lifestyle they desire. At that point, even if the business can be grown (more revenues, jobs and profits), you will find an indifferent owner who shows up late, takes few risks or mismanages the business. These owners are better off giving their money to a financial advisor and receive a higher rate of return than from investing in their business.
“Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than any other.
Listen to your inner voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
8. You have weak motivations – internal and external – for wanting business success or greater business success.
Everybody in life has ups and downs, good days and bad days. If you don't have or can't find the motivation to persevere, obstacles and setbacks could derail or destroy your business success or get you to quit. A person with strong motivations to pursue business success may say, "I will not stop until I build my business into a XXXXX company."
Motivations are not the same as desire - motivations are what 'push' you, desires are what 'pull' you. Think of a train going up a hill. Desire is the engine in the front that is pulling the carraiges and motivation is the engine at the back pushing them
9. Your Mental Models that block or derail your success.
Mental models are each person’s way of simplifying and making sense of a situation. They may be in the form of visual representations, beliefs, metaphors or your own personal rules (based on experience). For example, you may have a rule that people are ok to deal with if they graduated from college. You may ask every new person if they graduated from college. If the person did not graduate, you may choose to avoid any dealing with that person – it is your mental model to simplify the world around you and help you make faster decisions.
If your mental model is that all selling is bad, you are probably not going to sell your own business’s products or services (people tend to sell like they buy and buy like they sell). This could prevent you from achieving success in growing your business’ revenues.
If your metaphor for business is that, “Business is like baseball,” you could consider business to be fun - getting on base, hitting a homerun and so on. On the other hand, if you think business is like being in a den of snakes, you will be constantly terrified and focused on survival rather than growth and success.
Obviously, the meaning each of us gives to situations (based on our own mental models) is different. You just need to ensure that you do not have many negative and disempowering ways of framing business that could definitely impede your success or cause failure.
10. You ignore your truth-teller or do not have one.
People who are new to business are often surrounded by people inexperienced in business and many who are successful in business are often surrounded by ‘yes people’. In either case, they lack an experienced and knowledgeable truth-teller. Some individuals successful in business ‘assume continued success (a ‘silent killer of success’ already identified) and ignore the truth-teller who may be cautioning them. Yet others ‘fly solo’ and quickly develop blind spots – often fatal.
A truth-teller could be the person who could prevent failure by creating awareness and, perhaps, prevent you from making obvious mistakes. Your truth teller could be your business partner, spouse, mentor or coach. All too often, people do things that could result in failure they either ignore or fail to see.
11. You have 'success phobia' - the fear of success.
Business is a game of constant battles which requires you to push for the win and sometimes defeat a competitor. If you have one part wanting and another fearing business success, you will be constantly sabotaging your business success. Some people avoid success in order to maintain your status quo (keep the same friends you grew up with and not become the more successful and different one) or choke (like golfer Greg Norman did in the Masters Golf Tournament in 1987). On the other hand, a person who pursues success and wants to cross the finish line every time might say, "I love to win in everything I compete."
12. Unsupportive Partner – Business, Spouse, Friends or Family
Another big reason for limited success or failure is the constant negativity or lack of support of people who surround you at the office and home. If you hear a constant stream of “You cannot do it”, “You are wasting your time doing this”, “Go get a real job”, over time it will wear most people down. Remember that people close to you know your weaknesses as well your strengths. If they constantly remind you of your weaknesses, you could no longer see yourself or your situation (business, career) in the same optimistic light, sowing seeds of doubt. Over time, the fear of loss, disrespect or love will overpower your optimism and desire. On the other hand, supportive partners will support your dreams and resolve to succeed by reminding you of your strengths and cheering you when you need that extra push.
13. Negative Self-Talk
Self-talk is what you tell yourself about yourself, others and the world around you. It is your communication with your ‘inner self’. And, remember, you have more credibility with your inner self than anybody else. So, your self-talk has a huge effect on your journey to success (or failure). It forms your thoughts (questions and what your mind goes to work on) and beliefs (simplification) that drives your behavior and instinctive reactions (through your reptilian brain). And, it can affect your self-image (“That was a smart move”, “That was a dumb thing you did”).
What you say to yourself, particularly negative self-talk, could decrease your self-confidence, and impede your success or cause failure. It is ‘silent’ only because you know what you say to yourself and others do not. Negative self-talk could tear you down without you even knowing it. Everybody talks to themselves but few recognize the positive or negative aspects of self-talk while it may seem obvious and common sense. Fewer still, when faced with debilitating negative self-talk, catch, control, challenge and change it. Turning negative self-talk into positive self-talk could be empowering, build your confidence and enable you to achieve greater success in life.
14. You fail to follow through and take action
Most people give up on their great ideas because they procrastinate, choose to bask in their past successes or are too embarrassed, afraid or unmotivated to take action. The failure to act results in either limited success or failure. How many times have you seen some something in the real world and told yourself, a friend, family member or a colleague that you had that very idea many years ago? This happens to many people and often happens to people who have big credentials or consider themselves ‘smart’ and highly capable.
I call these the 'silent killers of success'. If you have any of these silent killers it does not matter what credentials you have, how smart you are or how much capital you have, you will have limited success or fail.
If you want to become a fighter pilot, you have to have certain qualifications. Additionally, you must not have certain attributes because they can lead to failure – bad eyesight, poor hearing, lack of desire to be a pilot, negative views about bombing, a burning desire to be an engineer(not a pilot), etc. Pilot applicants get rigorously screened. Becoming a doctor, similarly, is not easy. On the other hand, anybody wanting to start a business can.
All it takes is for somebody to get into business is an idea, some credentials, some seed capital, technology, etc. They are subjected to little or no screening unless they are seeking a bank loan or venture capital. Most companies are started by people with their own money, money from friends and family or angel funds. None of those involve serious vetting. Moreover, even those vetting procedures look mainly at the external factors (75% of all VC-funded companies fail according to a study by the Harvard Business School). Of course, bad or missing ingredients for business success will destroy the business but not before countless hours and capital have been lost. Moreover, as the first point above details, assuming that success in business is as easy as starting one could be a fatal flaw. The 70% failure rate of businesses in the U.S. amounts to more than the GDP of Saudi Arabia! You can find a list of the business success factors I have compiled based on my experience at https://businessthinking.com/business-success-factors.
The 'silent killers of success' are synonymous with resistance, an inability to act, make sluggish progress or outright inertia (failure to even get started). In some cases, such reluctance could be an inability to act beyond a certain point. For example, a significant number of business owners do not aggressively grow their companies once the cash generated from the business is adequate to fund the lifestyle they want for themselves (their desire has been 'met' or their financial thermostat setting point has been reached). An investor, on the other hand, may aggressively grow the same company because his focus is to make the maximum returns possible. In business, you cannot afford to have business reluctance whether you are a CEO, executive, solopreneur, entrepreneur or somebody considering a business career. Your business reluctance could become a huge impediment to your success and difficult to overcome - a silent killers of business success.
Between the business people and the ‘experts’, they are looking largely at the external reasons because those are emotionally acceptable and generate more revenues for the consultants. Business reluctance is much harder to 'solve'. Telling a client that his arrogance or complacency is driving his business to ruin does not drive billings. Similarly, millions of business owners who have hit their financial thermostat setting (two homes, spendable cash, nice car, annual vacations) and is happy, cannot be told that he should be unhappy - can grow his business and make even more money.
With business failures, whether you look at the individual leading the business or the business enterprise itself, many people pay heavy tolls. If the business person simply jumps to the next venture without truly understanding why they failed in the first place, the person will fail again. Many people and advisors celebrate failure. There are many people who wear repeated failures as badges of honor. Advisors fail to point out (or people fail to hear) that failures are only useful if you learn from them and avoid repeating them.
I listened to the experts, looked at the external factors and failed to look at the internal ones. You can achieve success or greater success by learning from my mistakes instead of repeating them – your choice!
Click to take this short quiz to find out if you have any of the silent killers of business success
Many people would rather fail than let somebody else find out they need help.
If you have business reluctance and fail to acknowledge and conquer it, it can impede your personal success and that of your business. Keeping up appearances and failing to acknowledge and seek help can be fatal. Many people would rather fail than let somebody else find out they need help. It is only the smart ones that recognize their gaps, seek help and go on to achieve greater business success.
It is only the smart and committed people with a growth mindset that recognize their gaps, seek help and achieve greater business success.
Depending on whose numbers you believe, between 65% and 80% of all businesses in America fail within 10 years. That is a staggering number. Even if you say it is 70%, the money lost annually in the US alone is greater than the GDP of Saudi Arabia. I believe that simply screening people (or getting them to screen themselves) who aspire to be in business for the 'silent killers' can substantially reduce the failure rate.
Rob Slee, an international expert on private companies (99% of all companies) says that a majority of private companies do not create additional business value because many of those owners lack the desire to achieve greater business success (click to listen to podcast interview with Rob) - many have some forms of business reluctance, typically hitting their setting on the financial thermostat. What do you think will happen to our economy (or any national economy for that matter) if we were to get 10% of those business owners to rekindle their desire (make it a burning desire) and motivation (make them highly motivated) to grow their businesses? Imagine how many more jobs will be created in communities across the world. Similarly, the world is littered with intelligent and talented people who have failed in business, in spite of good ideas and great intelligence. They have failed to recognize that intelligence is not the same as business smarts. What if we could get 10% of them to overcome their business reluctance and be successful in business, whether they are solopreneurs, run a business with employees or work for businesses as employees?
It is impossible to tell an underperforming business owner who is happy that he should be unhappy.
Almost everybody has one or more of the silent killers of success. It is a matter of identifying, monitoring and minimizing them to achieve greater business success. The silent killers of success are like a loaded spring - you cannot take the pressure off it or it will 'spring at you'! Or, if you are into circus analogies, it is like a wild tiger or lion; 'wild' is part of its nature. You need to constantly monitor and manage it or you could get injured or killed. Your level of success depends on your continued ability to minimize and manage the silent killers in yourself.
Take the quiz and find out how much (and which) business reluctance you may have.