Small Business Transition Blog


The High Risk of Small Business Tunnel Vision

Anyone making a quick word search on the Web for a key to "small business success" invariably finds the obvious, the trite, and the obsolete.

The advice ends up falling into one of a dozen or so familiar categories. For the sake of space and brevity, I only list a few:

• The willingness to work hard;
• The quality of passion, either for the activity of doing business itself or an enthusiasm for the products for which the individual is
• Having a great business plan or a great business model, and more recently
• Testing the validity of the business model and product-market fit assumptions. 

Let me add to that list my own candidate: "recognizing when you are in danger of getting out-of-your-depth". 

Contrary to the Horatio Alger myth that is so much a part of American culture -- and arguably a large portion of the world due to the international success and influence of Hollywood over the span of the past century -- no one entirely "makes it" on their own.  Even in the novels of Alger and Dickens, the protagonist gets a timely helping hand from some wealthy benefactor. 

However, in the case of the small business owner, you are -- in fact -- on your own.  You are the chief executive officer of your small enterprise, and -- regardless of the lack of sleep, lack of capital or unanticipated events -- ultimately responsible for its success or failure.

The small business owner, like most chief executives, tend to work long hours even into the weekend, juggling competing priorities and having to deal with many potential distractions. In our effort to focus on the task in front of us, we all-too-frequently drift from the necessary state of task focus into the treacherous waters of small business tunnel vision: what psychologists call, "inattentional blindness" or "perceptual blindness".

The term, “inattentional blindness”, was originally coined to describe a situation where individuals fail to see a specific object or stimuli due to the presence of many other competing objects or stimuli.  Focusing so much on one particular thing -- a stimulus -- the individual fails to recognize another important thing that is in plain sight. We have all experienced it: focusing exclusively on what is in front of you and not paying enough attention to what is coming at you from different directions.

Small business tunnel vision, coupled with the psychological isolation of the entrepreneurial lifestyle produces a determined, steady-as-she-goes intensity.  Combined with the entrenched Horatio Alger myth, we doggedly sail on, only to find an unnoticed iceberg ready to rip the hull out-from-under the most carefully crafted business model. 

More than any other single thing, I believe that the high rate of small business failure -- in the end -- comes down to the phenomenon of Small Business Tunnel Vision.

© Mark Lefcowitz 2014 -- 2018
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