Do You Believe in Magic? Don't.
In case you didn’t know, I’m very into cooking. Asian cuisine in particular, but I dabble in Italian, Cajun and Mexican, among others. Don't call me a foodie; that's just a fad. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid back in the dark ages.
One of my favorite shows, Food Network’s Chopped, features four chefs fighting it out to cook the best meals using a basket of mystery ingredients within a certain time limit. The loser in each round gets “chopped” from the competition until one remains: the winner.
A common way chefs get chopped is when they decide to make rice or risotto and there simply isn’t enough time left on the clock. You can maybe do that in a pressure cooker, but in a studio with normal air pressure, that’s simply not possible.
The thing is, these are experienced chefs. I’d say they should know better but I know they do know better. It's pretty basic stuff. So what’s up? Why do they do it?
It’s a remarkably common phenomenon called magical thinking, and it’s remarkably destructive. It’s responsible for more failed businesses, blown careers, and financial debt than you can imagine. And it’s practically an epidemic among the entrepreneur crowd.
Keep in mind, I’m not a shrink. I don’t even play one on TV. While magical thinking is a concept in psychology, this, in plain terms, is how it relates to the context of business.
Magical thinking starts when you’re a child. Children naturally think the whole world revolves around them. Their egos are enormous. They actually believe they’re responsible for everything they experience.
This is not a bad thing. We’re that way for a reason. It’s a survival instinct. And it’s very effective at keeping us safe and sounds before we’re able to fend for ourselves.
But as we get older, we mature. We learn that the universe is a big place, that we’re not at the center of it, and that we actually have little control over what happens there. We eventually figure out that we can’t simply wish things to be because we’re special.
And we learn that, on the surface of the Earth, rice takes 20 minutes to cook.
The only problem is that some people never really grow up. They look like adults and sometimes even behave like adults, but inside, they still have wildly inflated egos. They still believe they’re special and the laws of physics and finance don’t apply to them. And they make big mistakes when they really should know better.
Related: The Fine Art of Being a Great Boss
I’ve observed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people over the years and hear from new ones practically every day who, like those unfortunate chefs, insist on living in a utopian, make-believe world where:
- They can will themselves to be happy and successful.
- They can underfund, undercapitalize, and unwisely try to bootstrap their startup without running out of cash.
- Entrepreneurship is a mindset that has nothing to do with actually starting, owning, and running a real business with products, customers and employees.
- There’s such a thing as a four-hour workweek.
- They can have a successful career without ever getting dressed and leaving the house.
- Blogging, social media marketing, and generating free content like millions of other paupers is actually a career that will take them somewhere besides bankruptcy court.
- If it’s on the Internet and it sounds good then it must be true.
- Causal relationships and deductive reasoning don’t apply to them.
- Buying things they can’t afford and living beyond their means makes complete sense.
- They can predictably and consistently beat the stock market when professional investors can’t.
Look, I don’t mean to be harsh or judgmental here. The truth is, I’ve seen CEOs of large public companies behave the same way. That’s what brought us Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff and a corporate graveyard full of thousands and thousands of failed companies.
It’s great to believe in yourself, have faith in yourself and have confidence in yourself, especially if you can back it up with talent. But none of that changes reality. On some level you have to remember that you’re just a flesh and blood human, the rules do apply to you, and you can’t cook rice in 10 minutes.
Magic is only in books and movies. In the real world, keep it real.