The great ‘parental obsession’

Being too obsessive about your idea and exerting total control are counter-productive for a startup

Shridhar Bhagwat

History is full of stories where parents have been so blind and consumed by love for their children that they could hardly see any of their faults and crimes. Be it the great Greek mythology or our own Mahabharata, there are many examples of parents’ inability to see beyond their love for their child that clouds their own rational judgment and leads to trouble.

Copy and paste this scenario into the business world and you have a sure recipe for disaster. There have been cases where parents have hoisted their children, with few skills and abilities, into leadership roles, ignoring saner advice, thus pushing their fabled brands and companies towards closure.

Management gurus have warned us of these pitfalls and insisted on keeping ownership and management separate. But it is human nature to see one’s progeny take control and rule.

Being too obsessive about your idea and exerting total control are counter-productive for a startup
Being too obsessive about your idea and exerting total control are counter-productive for a startup

So how is this relevant to startups?

That was the irritating question raised by my editor. Alas, that’s the incongruity that startups founders too suffer from as they consider their idea as their golden child, finding it difficult to share or loosen their grip on it.

Having an honest talk with any founder entrepreneur on his startup idea or business and giving opinion is akin to attending a PTA meeting where some belligerent parent will blame the entire cosmos for conspiring to defame his child.

Parental obsession reduces the ability to see beyond love and affection towards one’s idea and this disables any rational business thought. This over possessiveness and inability to accept opposing views and alternative ideas discourages other to contribute in the startup.

A business idea or thought should be beyond sole control — you as a creator/founder have this added responsibility to see that your idea is successful and is not hampered by your over control and concern.

My recent meeting with a old client ended with a difficult choice for me to make — whether to abandon any rescue operation or not. It was a classical situation where the client understands that change is required but in no time starts defending the situation. In such situations, a person will try and impress that everything is going fine and we are already doing the best. If you confront him with views contrary, he will say: “ok fine why don’t you bring the change”, forgetting that a consultant’s role is to suggest and guide but not implement.

Even co-founders have struggled to make the principle founder accept change, and thus many startups have sunk due to the inability of the founder to share the idea, be open to suggestions and give some control to others. One needs to sell the dream to get co-founders and post that, the idea belongs to the group and you need to let it go. As a leader you are required to steady the ship and help define the course but you can’t control the show overriding others.

Investors are very cautious to spot differences among co-founders and the original idea holder and can demolish the entire concept and show the weaknesses in critical bargains. So it is not the idea alone, but the team, which is most critical to implement the plan, which gets the results. Investors do not fall in love with any idea or concept as for them it’s a business decision and a vehicle for future profits. They will be ruthless and even question the very basic concept and business premise.

You do not own any idea for ever — ideas are like smell of perfume, they take an instant to spread and once you share your idea with anyone, it is now with everyone. What matters now is your ability to share, sell and engage people to look at the dream outcome — and once you share the idea, you are now the visionary who can see the end of the rainbow. But that lasts only till you move to the next role of leader who cobbles the best team and resources to see the idea into a working business model.

So my suggestion to all those who are pregnant with ideas or are brimming with some concept that they feel could shake the very foundations of human civilization, hold on Sir before you narrate this great idea to others in real world. Start accepting the first step — that you cannot control it any longer, but yes you can share the idea/dream with others and work hard to nurture it into a reality. But to move forward, you need to stop controlling things and trust others. Your child will only have a future if you let it start breathing and develop its own identity — if you fall victim to parental obsession, you will only suffocate your idea and be responsible for its failure.




Shridhar Bhagwat is a management consultant who has spent more than 2 years studying 50+ startups and 15+ incubators. 

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