Why Entrepreneurs Fail - Keys for Creating Success

Part II to The Biggest Reason Entrepreneurs Fail

Posted Nov 09, 2012

There was a lot of talk in the presidential campaigns about how entrepreneurship can help turn the tide of economic collapse. Simply put, entrepreneurs develop innovations that both aid our Nation’s progress and create jobs. Therefore, it is not surprising that after winning his re-election, President Barack Obama has issued a proclamation naming November 2012 National Entrepreneurship Month and November 16, 2012 as National Entrepreneurs Day.

So what happens if you are one of those entrepreneurs that is now being hailed and being cheered on to cure the economy (no added pressure) – yet, you are as distressed about your projections as the last hired extra marketing person in a corporation that has just announced a major layoff?

My last post (The Biggest Reason Entrepreneurs Fail) addressed the statistics of business failures and the insidiousness of how our primal brain can hijack our best plans, leading us - and our entrepreneurial pursuits - into the ominous cave of shattered hopes and dreams.

This post addresses solutions for recognizing how and why our primal brains can hijack our plans and businesses and what you can do to harness your powerful primal brain to make it work for you rather than against you.

Spotting the Culprit

First, for all you skeptics that think a myriad of external causes have led to business failure, let’s take a minute to describe common little moments that your primal brain was hijacked and you – the frontal lobe, more mature part of you that writes business plans, makes executive decisions, determines budgets, etc. – lost control.

• Have you ever been to a buffet and put so much food on your plate that you couldn’t finish it?

• Have you ever been at a store and made an impulse purchase?

• Have you ever spent money on an item that you really didn’t desire but felt compelled to “keep up with the Jones’?” (e.g. spent a lot of money at an auction, sent kids to a camp or added extracurricular activity, spent money on clothes to impress a date, spent money on the latest technology gadget, etc.)

• Have you ever went along with a group decision that inwardly you knew was wrong?

• Have you ever delayed a task (paying bills, letting someone go, reaching out and asking for help, offering to help someone) because it was uncomfortable and created a bit of anxiety? 

• Have you ever found yourself feeling uncomfortable sitting still?

• Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night pacing back and forth and feeling worried about a situation, money or something else?

• Have you ever found comfort in distracting yourself from your problems by drinking, drugging, having sex, watching TV, playing video games, etc.? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your primal brain was hijacked and your frontal lobe was out of control. Yes, every single person experiences these moments. It’s normal. The key for life – and entrepreneurial success – is recognizing how and why it happens and decreasing the amount of times it occurs. This is especially true for entrepreneurs who are building a business, for real business success lies in the creation of systems that temper human failings (e.g. primal brain hijackings).

I realize I’m throwing terms like “primal brain” and “frontal lobe” out there. Let’s take some time to discuss what these parts of our brain do, how they interact, and then we can share the golden solutions for success.

Brain Wiring

In an attempt to keep it simple and easy to understand, the “primal brain” is the reptilian part of your brain. In terms of evolution, it is the oldest part of our brain and sits at the bottom of your brain, like a little pedestal supporting a large globe. It has amazing power and is responsible for instincts like aggression and dominance. Continuing the oversimplification, this system communicates with the middle “emotion” part of the brain (limbic system), which is then housed by the most evolved part of our brain, the neocortex. The neocortex’s “frontal lobe” covers the front part of your brain behind your forehead and manages attention, motivation and planning.

The critical takeaway is that the frontal lobe can plan and delay gratification (key to business planning) whereas the primal brain is wired to respond to the moment. So what happens if the frontal lobe makes a plan and the primal brain says, “No, we’re doing this instead!” It can be like a loaded cannon that gets turned to a different target at the last moment by a super strong mole sneaking up from underground. Only you, as the soldier that loaded the cannon and lit the fuse, didn’t realize it was swiveled at the last second. KABOOM! Your target was missed and, in worst cases, your own team was destroyed.

In an ideal situation, using the same scenario, you load the cannon, light the fuse, know the mole and have agreed in advance that the mole will keep the cannon steady while you run for cover. KABOOM! Your target is hit and you have a success. You high-five with the mole and celebrate your victory with your team.

So how do you get the powerful mole (primal brain) on your team? By finding out what motivates it and directing it’s attention onto your frontal lobe’s targets.


Remember your primal brain controls instincts, so imagine it as a little crying infant wanting its basic needs met. Your primal brain is therefore motivated by life’s simple, but powerful, needs—hunger, thirst, safety, security, and companionship. On Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs, it’s those foundational instincts for food, shelter, water, and love that the primal brain protects. PROTECTS. That’s right, protects.

When your primal brain feels a threat to any of your basic needs, it pulls you right off course. That’s where the old adage HALT came in – never make a decision you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. When you do, your primal brain is in control. Here are a few examples of how your primal brain can get you off track and create havoc in your business:

• You are lonely and working long hours and succumb to a romantic relationship in the workplace that results in multiple negative consequences.

• You are scared about money and your primal brain notes the fear and begins pulling you away from the very tasks that will help you profit (e.g., pursuing investors, working with partners, networking, filing paperwork, paying bills, making projections, filing patents, selling your goods and services).

• You fear rejection and your primal brain distracts you from building necessary relationships and/or delivering effective speeches.

• You are hungry and bark at employees or engage in a power struggle with an investor.

• You are tired and become reckless in your accounting, projections, and overall business.

These are a few examples and there a endless others. Go back and ponder a business failure you’ve witnessed or experienced and try deconstructing it to where you can identify the primal brain at work. It’s rather alarming – and enlightening – when you discover it.

Not only can you keep yourself in balance by remembering HALT, you can also do some things to harness your primal brain’s furtive power. 

Remember, your primal brain wants to PROTECT you. It does not want you to fail. When it senses you’re in danger of not getting your basic needs met, it provides cunning Herculean strength to get those needs met. Sure, it can pull you off your best plans. That’s why you have to be equally shrewd in designing a plan with built-in primal brain protection power.

Imitate the Big Guys

Successful public corporations that run like the world’s finest sailing ships have some answers that you can employ in your entrepreneurial venture. They have tried and true systems that inherently align everyone’s primal brains.

One example is the need to report quarterly projections and file quarterly reports. The CEO and entire team must meet their projections or face the wrath of their shareholders. Everyone’s primal brains can feel the danger of not meeting a goal, so they keep the person in gear to achieve the goal. The primal brain does not want to have rejection or loneliness, so provides added energy to help meet goals. It’s that same rush of energy one gets in order to meet a deadline. To up the ante a bit and create a continual release of energy, you can create weekly deadlines for you and your team – with consequences and rewards.

Speaking of rewards, this explains why bonuses, commissions, and other incentives work - the primal brain wants the reward. Thus, providing daily, weekly, and monthly rewards can be the deceptively simple secret to increasing innovation, building morale, and growing a healthy and thriving business.

Loneliness. Don’t isolate or overwork yourself or your team to the point of loneliness. That spells disaster for everyone. Have monthly or quarterly family events (dinner, picnic, mini-golf, holiday parties, etc.), so that you and employees do not build resentment that workplace is keeping them from their loved ones and vice versa. In addition, do such things with clients and investors to build camaraderie and solid relationships. Have recurring retreats, fun days, potluck Fridays, and regular staff meetings to foster healthy workplace relationships.

There are countless other systems and tricks you can create that facilitate primal brain diligence. Some can be more extreme and manipulative, but boy can they work. Examples include offering $5,000 from your personal checking account to your competition if you do not meet your goal. (This only works if you have the money and are committed to following through.) Others include, publicly announcing the release date of a product (that is not even completed…or yet developed) and then see that deadline energy flow. Obviously, these are on a case-by-case basis and need to be reasonable and achievable.

Other Ways Primal Brain can Derail You

To the reader that commented about their situation in my last post, the core complaint was that anxiety and fear were negatively impacting performance and, consequently, business success. The primal brain will pull you off course if it feels threatened in any way. Here are some examples of how it responds to threats (real or perceived):

• If you are doing something that goes against your values, your primal brain will pick up on this disconnect and you will implode in some fashion (health, increasing fear, etc.).

• If you are seeking help from someone that you secretly feel threatened by, your primal brain will pick up that their information is a threat and will want to do things that thwart their advice and/or your relationship with them.

• If you are feeling incompetent and insecure about your abilities and beating yourself up with lots of negative accusations, your primal brain will perceive you as a threat and do anything to escape you, giving birth to self-destructive behavior.

Trumping the Brain

This post has addressed the ever-so-simple and oh-so-powerful primal brain and how this stealthy part of our primitive brain can be responsible for business failures. Obviously, it can extend to every area of your life. Now that you’re armed with the basics, you can reassess your own challenges and develop creative systems that can help you and your team succeed. Hiring a coach that understands the nuances of how people learn and work can be one of the best investments you can make. There is a reason some of these “touch-feely” solutions work and now you have a better understanding of their necessity.

In addition, I am a firm believer that there is something can transcend the limitations of our brains. It is the power behind synergy, magic, creativity, meaning, beauty, purpose, and love. I believe it’s a Higher Power that resides above us, around us, and within us. It is more powerful than every primal brain being aligned around the globe. Thus, when that Power is unified with your frontal lobe and your primal brain, your entrepreneurial venture is gifted with the winning combination of Divine Power and Supernatural Success.

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