Why You Need to Manage Your Narcissism

I’m not a clinical psychologist; let’s be clear. That said, entrepreneurs do tend to skew strongly toward narcissistic behavior (in the latest research). This is a learned pattern of interpreting social life in a constant source of positive feedback. That’s how I see it as an anthropologist. And, ultimately, it’s a good trait to have in a field of endeavor where the failure rate is so high, only the ultra-confident would persist calmly. 

And you’ll always have this tendency, most likely (at least when managing your business is concerned). Steve Jobs ‘reality distortion field’ is not only his; it’s probably yours too. That’s why it seems realistic for you to take on Haagen-Dazs with your innovation (and little money or experience). You may continue to distort reality. 

But you HAVE to manage this tendency, or it absolutely can get out of control and kill your business before the market does. Here are three practical things you can do to blunt the toxic effects of narcissism while you otherwise channel it to good use.

  1. Stop taking stakeholder B.S. personally – indifference to your tiny existence is NOT evidence of a malevolent, cackling desire to see you fail. Whether it’s a distributor, a buyer, an investor, or whoever is treating you poorly, it’s rarely on purpose. Narcissism tends to make you take poor treatment due to indifference (or capitalist reasoning) way, way too personally. This could one day cause you to say or do something that will burn a bridge you need.

  2. Stop asking yes/no ego rub questions– “Isn’t my RTD cold brew awesome? What do you think?” So…let me get this right….you ask a loaded question first and then pretend to ask an open-ended one right after? How the hell is anyone but an autistic person supposed to respond to this with anything but a fake yes? If you want a candid opinion, don’t ask yes/no questions! I can’t tell you how many founders seriously talk like this when introducing or pitching their ‘precious baby’ to whomever, even to their grandmother. Stop. Stop. Just stop. 

  3. Stop underestimating the time and effort it takes to gain memorability. So, if you’ve read Ramping Your Brand, you know that memorability is the single most critical, elusive trait an emerging brand must develop fast. And memorability is something you have just as much ability to generate as General Mills. Since you’re more humble and authentic, you probably have a symbolic advantage over General Mills. It’s the ultimate democratic tool in brand-building. But, you can’t let your narcissist love for yourself blind you to the intense amount of time and effort it takes to build initial trial, awareness, and otherwise seeding the word-of-mouth machine.

    It’s a long process.

    Very few brands generate near-instantaneous word-of-mouth like Chobani and SkinnyPop. Narcissism easily blinds founders to problems with their positioning, product design, sensory traits, etc., to require objectivity, not self-love, to uncover

Dr. James Richardson

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