Brad Feld

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Avoid the Fearmongers

Dec 07, 2008

On October 7th, I wrote a post titled Ok Entrepreneurs, Time to Step Up.  There were plenty of great comments about the post that – as with most good comment threads – are better than the actual post.  In it, I linked back to a post I wrote on April 21st titled Fear Is The Mindkiller (my favorite quote from Dune , one of the best science fiction books of all time).  The basic message of both posts – fear and anxiety shuts humans down in extreme ways.

Michael Parekh tweeted a link to a great article in the New York Times today titled in Hard Times, Fear Can Impair Decision-Making.  Gregory Berns, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University starts off with a dynamite line – "WORK is feeling more and more like a Skinner box."  Midway through the essay, he has a paragraph that cuts right to the essence of the issue.

"This means not being a fearmonger. It means avoiding people who are overly pessimistic about the economy. It means tuning out media that fan emotional flames. Unless you are a day-trader, it means closing the Web page with the market ticker. It does mean being prepared, but not being a hypervigilant, everyone-in-the-bunker type."

Sound familiar?  If you read this blog with any regularity, it should.  It is part of the core of my philosophy of life.  Berns continues:

"I DON’T care what your business is, but if you think it will eventually come back to what it was — your brain is in the grips of the fear-based endowment effect. What I am doing is looking for new opportunities. This means applying neuroscience discovery to realms where it hasn’t been used before."

In my opinion, this is true for all things, not just business and work.  Fear shuts down everything – in Berns words "The most concrete thing that neuroscience tells us is that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off."

I never suggest that you deny reality – in fact the line from Atlas Shrugged "Nobody stays here by faking reality in any manner whatever" is another part of the core of my philosophy of life.  Don’t fake reality, but don’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear.  And one way to start is by avoiding the fearmongers.