Winning Attitude, Losing Attitude

I have a friend who has wanted to start a startup for years. Every time he comes up with an idea, he subsequently talks himself down: the market isn't big enough, the timing isn't right, he can't find a cofounder. The reasons are always different, and are always logical.

This is a loser's attitude, and unfortunately it is shared by millions. It is why our risk-adverse society systematically over-rewards those willing to take perceived risks. When you look for reasons not to do something, you will always find them.

I have another friend who came to the Bay Area with the dream of starting a startup. He had no college, no programming ability and no connections when he got here. He got a job serving ice cream, moved on to join a startup, then started his own company after two years. The company is now doing 2 million in annual revenue a year and a half later.

When you approach a challenge with the foundational belief that you can do it, you have a much different mindset than  when you approach it with the idea that it is impossible. In the former case you almost always figure out a way, in the latter case you almost never do.

Those with a winning attitude get started and figure out how to get things done. Those with a losing attitude worry about failure, and never get started.


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7 responses
This sounds very similar to the concept of "effectuation" ( The flexibility to redefine goals based on available means instead of deciding on a goal and lamenting the lack of appropriate means.

Here's a good [pdf] summary, "What makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial?":

Hey Justin,

I appreciate the brevity of your article. While I agree it all has to do with mindset and your belief system, but for some people it takes quite some time to acquire that foundation (beliefs/mindset).

Some people naturally have it. Some are taught by their parents or consciously decide to change and learn over time through self help resources.

Whichever camp you fall under, I'd say the major determining factor is the social bonds that you foster - whether online (HN, forums, Mastermind groups, or real life friends)

@Will -

I agree that acquiring the mindset is something that can be pretty difficult. Surrounding yourself with people who have the right attitude is key -- and one of the greatest parts about going through Y Combinator and being in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. I find that now surround myself almost entirely with people that have the winning attitude, and that helps reinforce it in myself every day.

funny that you cite sarasvathy's article. it was mentioned on TechCrunch in conjunction with Peter Sims' book release, "Little Bets."

Link to the TC article can be found here:

Thanks for the link to the Sarasvathy's study.

Interesting. So have you talked to the first friend about you thinking he has a loser attitude, and suggested ways he might acquire the right mindset to succeed? What was his response, if any?
@CraigRodrigues - he didn't learn to program so quickly -- he actually started a company that didn't require him to program.

@Bill - I've suggested many a startup to the friend, but it's more trouble than it's worth to give him a complete attitude intervention. That service is reserved for those with whom I think I have a high likelihood of changing.

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