How Innovators Distort Reality

blank canvas thinkingAre all innovators alike?

Michael Dearing, a venture capitalist, has developed strong views on the similarities of innovators after screening over three thousand founders and funding over sixty companies since 2006. Dearing observed that the most successful founders are prone to certain “cognitive distortions”: biased, even objectively inaccurate, ways they think of themselves and filter information that enable them to make quicker and better decisions, bounce back from setbacks, and attract talent.

Basically, here’s how innovators distort reality:

  1. Personal exceptionalism. The belief you are “on the top of your cohort” and destined to greatness. Dearing believes exceptionalism helps founders be resilient, persistent, and persuasive when enticing employees, customers, and investors to work with them.
  2. Dichotomous thinking. As Dearing describes it, “X is shit, Y is genius” thinking. These snap decisions and strong opinions help a start-up team know what to focus on and what to ignore. It stops them from trying to jam in every feature or please every customer. The main risk, Dearing says, is that the accompanying perfectionism that founders often exhibit can be exhausting and exasperating.
  3. Correct overgeneralization. Innovators make universal judgments from limited observations and yet are correct a disproportionate amount of the time; it makes people around them cringe.
  4. Blank canvas thinking. Innovators have a strong desire to invent new rules, especially when the existing ones are generally accepted. They do not paint-by-numbers; they want to make art.
  5. Schumpeterianism. Dearing describes that innovators see creative destruction as natural, necessary, and as their vocation. This attitude helps the innovator be fearless and have a high tolerance for pain.

Bottom line: Genius is thinking otherwise.