Breaking the stereotype

Stuck in stereotypical thinking this Christmas? Here is some advice for entrepreneurs from US marketing guru Guy Kawasaki.

“Recently I read The Choke Factor: How Stereotypes Affect Performance, which analyzes how stereotypes compromise performance – particularly of negatively stereotyped groups. For example if female students are told that women are stereotypically worse in maths immediatly before a maths test, then they score lower in the test.

“The theory is that by making a group aware of their stereotype, you can introduce ‘enhanced cognitive load.’ Intrusive and negative thoughts cause a load that interrupts and harms performance. What do you think will happen when (not if) you are told that you don’t know how to run a company? Entrepreneurs– like wannabe hockey players and female maths-test takers – should heed the scientific underpinnings of choking and the impact of negative stereotypes.

“Here’s what you can do to avoid choking:

1. Avoid negative people. This refers to the folks who are likely to express the negative stereotype that first-time entrepreneurs don’t know what to do. (This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to avoid venture capitalists because they never tell you what they really think.) Certainly you should avoid “proven” older entrepreneurs who don’t remember how clueless they were when they were “your age” and now consider themselves experts.

2. Ignore the people you cannot avoid. As George Orwell should have said, ‘Ignoring is bliss.’ If you think about what they said, it could lead to what they said, so figuring out what to ignore is as important as what to listen to. The best way to ignore negative people is to bury yourself in your work – to prototype like hell. When I’m writing, nothing enters my brain but the need to eat and pee – and sometimes not even that.

3. Invoke positive stereotypes. Positivity can enhance performance according to the article – it’s ‘fighting fire with fire’ as the saying goes. For example, entrepreneurs could invoke the positive stereotype that a couple of guys/gals who love technology and aren’t ‘proven’ entrepreneurs can start companies like Apple, Yahoo!, Google, YouTube and Facebook. Perhaps this is one reason that Silicon Valley rocks as a place for young people to start companies: the wunderkind stereotype is a very positive one here.”

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