I’ve recently gotten involved as a volunteer mentor at Georgia Tech’s startup incubator. The process teaches budding entrepreneurs how to discover whether their idea might become a sustainable business. The principles are deceptively simple to understand and incredibly challenging to implement, because startup entrepreneurs often believe so passionately about their idea that they become susceptible to what’s called Confirmation Bias.
This malady is common to the human condition. We all hold certain beliefs about our business, family and self and possess an innately tuned bias that selectively finds examples of behaviors that confirm our beliefs. Yet we often get surprised when others react to us in ways that seem inconsistent with our beliefs. This dissonance arises from a gap between beliefs and behaviors.
We cannot resolve this dissonance by more effective marketing of our beliefs and values, because our behaviors almost always have greater impact than our beliefs–as the old adage says, “What we do speaks so loudly others cannot hear what we say (let alone think).”
In the business world, branding experts zealously strive for consistency between behaviors and beliefs, because they know that behaviors inconsistent with a brand’s target image undermine the brand and decrease its value. In fact, all of their efforts zero in on translating their beliefs into consistent behaviors so that everyone who interacts with that product or service has a similar experience.
At a personal level, people know us (our personal brand) by how we behave. When our behaviors remain consistent over time it establishes a level of predictability which makes it easier for people to interact with us–they know what to expect. When our behaviors are aligned with our beliefs we experience less distracting and destructive personal stress. And when our beliefs are further aligned with Truth we experience a harmonic resonance of personal productivity and effectiveness.
Putting it into practice
My friend, Jack Williams, created a personal mission statement entitled his “I Believe” list. Jack knows that defining what he believes isn’t enough to make a difference; so Jack reads his “I Believe” list frequently to remind himself of what he values. Periodically Jack reviews the list and evaluates his behaviors against his beliefs. If his assessment reveals behaviors reliably inconsistent with one of his stated beliefs, Jack takes that as evidence of disbelief, and he removes that item. That can be a sobering reality check when one of those beliefs might be “I believe that I communicate love and respect for my children by consistently participating in events important to them” or “I believe that consistently spending quality one-on-one time with each direct report is crucial to their professional development.”