The Business IS Your Baby

Some new research confirms what we’ve suspected for a long time: your emotional connection to your business mirrors your emotional connection to a child. This might explain, in part, why:

  • It’s difficult for you to evaluate your firm objectively.
  • You are defensive when an employee offers what would otherwise be constructive feedback.
  • You’re willing to accept certain idiosyncrasies as just part of the package.
  • You take it personally when an employee leaves.
  • You don’t understand how an employee doesn’t feel the same level of commitment that you do.

These feelings are normal in a parent-child relationship, but they would be foreign to an employer-employee relationship at a large, publicly traded firm. But not so much when we’re talking about a small, closely-held firm that is a virtual extension of who you are.

Let me summarize this interesting research and then suggest how you might use it to think a bit differently about how you run your firm.

In a controlled experiment in Finland, fathers were shown separate photos of their businesses and their children, as well as separate photos of other people’s businesses and children. Using MRI scans, the scientists found something astonishing. The parental brain activity that registered when they were shown pictures of their children was also seen when they were shown pictures depicting their businesses–but not so when they were shown pictures of other businesses or children not their own.

The result was so astonishing that they confirmed it with questionnaires to measure emotional intensity (e.g., “how much do you love this x”) and confidence (e.g., “how much do you believe in y”). For reference, the fathers were an average 33 years old, the firms had been around 4.5 years, and their children were 5.6 years old. And the results were most pronounced when the firm was growing.

All this means that your business really is your baby, for all practical purposes. You care about it, devote crazy hours and energy to it, think it’s special, and are quite protective.

This is good, healthy, and normal stuff. But when you go to that parent-teacher conference and Ms. Jones gently suggests that little Timmy has some behavioral problems, your defensiveness is going to keep Timmy from getting the help that he deserves.

Your business and mine are probably average, okay? Accepting that opens up all sorts of doors to improvement. You can learn from your peers, other industries, your employees, your clients, and anybody who regularly seems to nail it.

The study concludes by stating that “entrepreneurial love is strikingly similar to parental love.” There’s a lot to think about as you explore that parallel.

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