Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fighting the Imposter Syndrome

The great Eric Barker just wrote generally about fighting the effects of the Imposter Syndrome, in which successful people are convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve the success that they've achieved.

Imposter syndrome is extremely widespread, affecting 70% of successful people, according to a study by psychologist Gail Matthews.  If it affects you, you might think you're alone, but it probably affects your successful friends as well.

I believe that entrepreneurs are especially prone to imposter syndrome, in part because their press clippings tend to paint a glowing picture of them and their companies that would make the most outrageous Facebook-brag look modest.

Eric's post offers some great advice for those who find themselves feeling like frauds:
"Focus On Learning: Forget appearing awesome. You can get better if you try, so focus on that.
“Good Enough” Goals: Stop trying to be prefect. (Yes, that was a typo. I’m not fixing it. It’s good enough.)
Take Off The Mask: Talk to someone you think is facing the same issue. You’re not alone."
Let's take each of these in turn.

Focus On Learning
The entrepreneurs I admire most are the ones who admit their lack of omniscience and focus on learning.  This doesn't have to mean following the advice of others; rather, it means keeping an open mind, yet taking a skeptical and experimental approach to the world.  If you focus on the status you've achieved, you'll worry about losing it.  If you focus on learning, you'll realize that no one can take away what you've learned, and that there is always more to learn.

“Good Enough” Goals
If you measure yourself against others, you'll never be happy.  There's always a bigger fish.  Even Mark Zuckerberg, who has achieved more at a young age than anyone since Alexander the Great, could still be disappointed.  Adopting modest goals doesn't mean that you cut off achievement; at one point, Larry Page and Sergey Brin offered to sell Google to Yahoo! for $1 million, and were bargained down to $750K by Vinod Khosla.  The deal only fell apart because Excite refused to pay that exorbitant sum.  Oops.

Take Off The Mask
This is where having real friends and loved ones comes in.  In my own life, I have been the subject of both adulation and scorn.  But I never let either affect me that much because I am fortunate to have a spouse that loves the real me (and married me long before either the adulation or the scorn) and true friends who don't really care about who thinks what in the Silicon Valley bubble.  For goodness sake, maintain relationships with people outside the Valley.

You shouldn't feel bad if you find yourself falling into the imposter syndrome.  But you don't have to suffer alone, and in silence.  Follow Eric's advice, and you'll be able to see yourself as you truly are, and understand that what others think doesn't matter that much.

The Implied Assumption of Success

One of the mental traps that I try to avoid is what I'm going to term "the implied assumption of success."

This trap occurs when entrepreneurs say something like, "If I raise $2 million instead of $500K, I'll be able to get much farther, so I should raise $2 million."

The issue, of course, is that the implied assumption of success glosses over the fact that your chances of raising $2 million are probably very different than your chances of raising $500K.

I was struck by another version of this when I read the seemingly contradictory facts that mobile browsing traffic was 2X that of native apps, and that native apps accounted for 80-90% of our time on mobile devices.

The punchline is that both are correct.  Far more people visit mobile websites than use mobile apps, but people spend far more time on the few mobile apps that they bother to use.
"Deepest engagement for the longest period of time happens in apps, so apps matter, and they matter desperately for brands who want to connect to customers. But since, as we’ve seen in our research, apps-per-smartphone users is maxxing out at an average of 50-60, and no-one besides Robert Scoble is going to install an app for each company, service, or site he or she interacts with, your mobile web experience has to be good, and it has to be strong."
In other words, a person who downloads and regularly uses your app is way more valuable than someone who just visits your mobile website.  But this doesn't mean you should invest all your efforts in your mobile app.  Indeed, consider the plight of major retailers--of the top 30 US retailers, only 2 of them drove more than 50% of their mobile usage via app: Amazon and Walmart.

The implied assumption of success tricks us into investing in desirable, but lower-probability initiative.  When you are considering several alternatives, make sure that you account for the probability of success, not just the magnitude of potential benefit.