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It was a brilliant observation from Tim Huntley of An Entrepreneurial Life, based on an exchange with an entrepreneur. The entrepreneur is stuck in some sort of circular-loop thinking preventing him and his team from making progress. In a rather rare display of self-awareness, the entrepreneur likens his dilemma to a concept taken from an obscure documentary called Waiting for Superman.   In this case:

Superman means funding:Superman-194x300

Once we get another developer we’ll be able to solve all of our technical issues.

Once we get funding we can fully scale.

Once we fully scale we will be taken seriously on platforms such as Techcrunch.

‘I want to be able to resolve these issues, but cannot as I have to wait for Superman to come and magically make the business correct itself. ‘

via Waiting for Superman.

 

The Waiting for Superman syndrome means delaying action until conditions are ideal, until a silver-bullet solution appears or until a seminal event occurs. Far too often the entrepreneur –  particularly the first time entrepreneur – is always finding issues that seemingly prevent him or her from taking their venture to the next level. This is Entrepreneurial Procrastination, plain and simple.

E-Procrastination comes in the form of  statements that all start off with “Once we …” :  

  • Once we get our website redesigned, then we can start talking to partners and customers.
  • Once we file some provisional patents will be ready to talk to investors.
  • Once we  finish our business plan or executive summary, will be ready to talk about our company to investors.
  • Once we get some funding we can hire some programmers construct product development.
  • etc. etc. etc.

Ironically, The Lean Startup movement was inspired as a reaction to the Waiting for Superman  syndrome.   The lean startup methodology usually boils down to taking action in the form of many iterations, and making progress well before the concept of a product is officially “ready.”   While I personally think the lean startup has become a bit of a catchall philosophy embraced by too many young entrepreneurs. Sometimes it is portrayed as the only way to start a successful company.  The Lean Startup methodology certainly has an extreme bias toward action – is exactly how successful entrepreneurs ought to behave.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurs are human. When things get tough –  particularly when the entrepreneurial journey gets vague and risky –  human nature finds reasons to procrastinate.  E-Procrastination is common when the discomfort of risk, or confrontation can be reduced.  Confrontation is probably the scariest and most subtle reasons for E-Procrastination:  Confrontation means confronting customers, investors, partners or the market, with your new idea and your new company. Confrontation means rejection.  It means the failure of everything you are working on.   So, it easier to hide behind closed doors and work to ‘get it right.’

E-Procrastination doesn’t mean sitting idle.  In fact, E-Procrastinators are the busiest and most harried group, it’s just that they are busy working on things that delay their success.  And the sinister irony is that it seems opposite: That they are working fervently to ensure the product and company are ‘ready’ for success. The Waiting for Superman syndrome affects all entrepreneurs from time to time.

Now that the syndrome has a name, perhaps more entrepreneurs can recognize when they’ve fallen into the E-Procrastination trap.   The best entrepreneurs have a bias for action – particularly for actions that have impact on their customers, partners, investors or market.  Great entrepreneurs embrace that other catchphrase which defines the very best of entrepreneurs:  “Just Do It.”

Written by CJ Cornell

CJ Cornell

Serial Entrepreneur. University Professor. Software Engineer. Media Executive. Venture Capitalist. Researcher. Marketer. Advisor. Mentor. Author and Speaker. Founded or co-founded nearly a dozen companies in software, digital media and television.

For the past few years I’ve been Co-Director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and Professor of Digital Media & Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, and the university’s first full time Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Currently Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at New York Institute of Technology and Managing Director at Propel Ventures LLC.

 

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