Why the "IKEA Effect" Is Killing Your Entrepreneurial Dream
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“Looks great, doesn’t it?” Assembling the entertainment center for our new apartment had taken me hours. Let’s just say my craftsmanship was less than stellar: One of the side panels was backwards, and I had even managed to scratch the glass doors before finishing the job. I didn’t care, though. I was proud of my mediocre construction and that’s all that matters… right?
Behavioral economist and TEDx speaker Dan Ariely coined a term for this line of thinking: The IKEA effect. The concept is simple: The more time and effort you expend on a creation, the more attached to it you become. The IKEA effect is fine for particle board furniture construction and other personal hobbies, but as an aspiring entrepreneur, it will sink you before you even start.
Related: 5 Fatal Entrepreneurial Delusions
The problem with being overly attached to your work is that it makes pivoting or throwing out a project altogether way more painful. Entrepreneurship is about innovation and creation, but it’s also about separating what you want to work from what actually works.
If you’re attached to your business idea or the way you market it, you’re holding yourself back. Here are three ways to detox from attachment and develop a more flexible perspective.
Be prolific, not perfect
The origin of the 10,000 hours rule for mastery is a 1993 study of violin students by the late K. Anders Ericsson. That benchmark has been disputed in the decades since, but one thing is for sure: The best violinists — and even the ones in the middle of the pack — practiced a lot.
We all want to produce a terrific product, but simply thinking about that perfect offer or prototype isn’t enough. We have to test it. We have to press publish and ship the product before we feel ready. As LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman notes: “If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.”
Consistent output helps you elicit the feedback (or crickets) you need to make your next move. What works? What doesn’t? If you wait for perfection before you ship, you’ll never know for sure.
Find feedback loops that support you
Many aspiring entrepreneurs — and creators especially — like to lean into this idea of the tortured artist. There’s a misconception that to build something great, you have to lock yourself away and do it all alone without interruption. This dream is toxic and can prevent you from getting the valuable feedback you need to improve and break through.
Instead of dreading feedback, seek it out. Every hole poked in your value proposition makes you that much stronger in the long run.
Keep in mind that the opposite end of the spectrum is also destructive. “Radical candor” and other buzz phrases for brutal, non-supportive honesty feel like a must to make it to the top, but a true coach or mentor will both give you tough feedback and support you as you charge forward.
The most hazardous facet of the IKEA effect is that when people tell you your creation stinks, it’s a blow to your ego. If you aren’t used to this, you’ll bounce back slowly (If at all — many people just give up) and the hours spent being in your head are gone forever.
If anything, this gives you even more incentive to try out new product features or marketing campaigns. The worst thing that can happen is that you make a mistake — which gives you a chance to practice bouncing back and builds resilience over time.
It’s good to feel excited and inspired by your next entrepreneurial pursuit; inspiration is the fuel that drives us all forward on this crazy path. As you move forward, however, resist the urge to build an echo chamber that insulates you from the truth about your business. Pursue feedback from others, commit to growing along the way and soon enough the right kind of confidence will bubble to the surface.