Suspension of disbelief

Seth Godin has an interesting post here about how pundits (experts in general) get it wrong trying to predict hits. In reference to startups, this is my reasoning why this seems to be the case.

Suspension of disbelief is a key skill you need to predict the future. Otherwise, you are having to use today’s assumptions to predict tomorrow’s hits. Suspension of disbelief requires effort because disbelief is generally a survival instinct. We tend to not believe something that doesn’t jive with what exists today. What exists today, in totality, is the environment in which we must survive. I guess I can get even more Darwinian and say, back in time, our environment was just nature. Nature doesn’t change at the pace of society. The technology within a society changes even faster. Thus, to predict the future, you have to suspend disbelief.

Suspension of disbelief is only one piece. You also have to understand trends and especially the “butterfly in China” effect.

Big hits in startups change industries. If you don’t start with the assumption that an industry can be bent, you automatically rule out hits. If you don’t have a sound understanding of how an industry can be bent, but can suspend disbelief, you don’t have a way to predict success. So you rule everything in, especially ‘big ideas’ that fit with what’s talked about on CNBC. Then, you rule out things that don’t ‘feel’ right. Nothing ‘feels’ right unless you can take credit for a piece of the idea. So, again, most hits get ruled out.

I think there’s a lot more written out there about industry understanding, so the main theme here is suspension of disbelief. I would say if you don’t have to suspend disbelief a little bit to see a startup as a hit, it’s a red flag. It might be a profitable venture, but probably not a hit.

Also, young people are better at suspension of disbelief. I mean this in the best possible way — they pretend better. This is the key to understanding the generalization of why young people tend to catalyze hits (MS, Google, Apple, Facebook etc etc)


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