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The Actual Motive Most Companies Fail (and What To Do About It)

14, 2021

8 min read

The opinions of entrepreneurs' contributors are their own.

The Bureau of Labor Statistic published that 70% of business owners fail by their tenth year of existence. What most people don't know is why it does. It turns out that for about 70% of our adult lives, the part of our brain that is capable of our best critical thinking, income generating, and problem solving skills is actually turned off.

The reason for this is as follows:

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity

In the management area, these elements are usually referred to as VUCA. Your brain, of course, likes to avoid VUCA at all costs. This is hardwired into us by our caveman ancestors who avoided areas of uncertainty due to the risk of being killed by a wild animal. However, when it comes to entrepreneurship, we need to overcome uncertainty as the solutions to the problems we are trying to solve are not yet known. Hence, it is important to be adaptable to the iteration for better results.

But if VUCA activates the state of survival that prevents you from succeeding in business, then why is it active for so much of your adult life? Even if you rarely find yourself in life-threatening situations now?

This is because the brain feels it has to survive not only physically but also emotionally. Research has shown that emotional pain can be just as painful as physical pain. The amount of stress, frustration, and anxiety that entrepreneurs face on a daily basis due to VUCA tends to trigger the part of the brain that just knows how to be reactive. Therefore, emotions such as fear, restlessness, and frustration trigger the short-sighted survival response. As a result, the functions of the brain that are most needed by entrepreneurs are switched off. When your brain is in this reactive state, it cannot think.

With 86.3% of small businesses making less than $ 100,000 a year, with a good chunk of that going straight into spending, it's no wonder business owners are consistently in a state of survival. The brain equates money with survival because it puts food on the table and has a roof over its head. However, when trying to build a successful business in this state, you often make short-sighted decisions that you regret because of critical thinking and the brain's creativity centers are shut down. What's worse is that if you survive, your brain empathy center is shut down, which ultimately prevents you from focusing on what helps you generate sales: the customers.

Related: The 6 Top Reasons Businesses Fail and How To Avoid Them

The two states of the brain

The brain is only ever in one of two states. The survival state or the executive state. The state of survival is activated when the brain believes your life is in danger. In this state, your brain goes ahead and reacts without thinking. And it can only respond in one of three ways: fight, flee, and freeze.


This can be a straightforward response, e.g. B. If someone is cut off on the street and the lid flips over and tries to fight back by cutting off the other person. If this can be a major problem for many executives, their overactive state of survival is that they struggle hard and overwork themselves to generate growth for the company. This counterintuitive approach is very damaging to business in the long run. This leads to burnout and myopia about what can help the company grow the most. When your brain is in the state of survival it develops tunnel vision and looks for the nearest exit as it has to survive from the threat. This tunnel vision hurts business leaders because they cannot see the greater opportunities and solutions that exist around them and it constantly feels like they are constantly putting out fires.


In entrepreneurship, a classic flight reaction is to procrastinate. This often comes in response to a lack of complete clarity on how to move forward. Another reason may be that you don't feel ready or able, which causes the survival brain to run away from the task. This can also lead to escape by engaging in numbing behaviors to intentionally distract yourself, such as B. Watching TV, comfort eating, or other excessive behaviors.


This turns out to be inaction or indecision and often occurs when you are overwhelmed with the amount of work you need to do. This survival response stems from the strategy of playing dead. If you pretend you don't exist, the problem may go away.

This combat flight freeze response is common when we face VUCA situations in our business. That is why we often do not feel like working and hesitate. Or we don't want to work on the most important measures that make the company successful.

However, in the executive state, you can access some of the most important functions of your brain to find the solutions you are looking for in your business.

The reason for this is that you can enable:

The ability to think critically

You can look at all of the variables associated with a particular challenge and find a solution. That experience where your brain can connect the dots and ultimately see that the solution only occurs in an executive state.

Executive function

This is the ability to make good decisions.


We need our creativity because it allows us to see things that we normally wouldn't have paid attention to before. This helps our brain to recognize new solutions and possibilities that are out there that the survival brain would not otherwise have seen.


Many business leaders often violate team culture by entering the state of survival. They find it difficult to see all of the needs that can be communicated to them, be it from employees or from customers. It does this because the focus is protecting itself when you are in the state of survival.

Related: 6 Lifelines That Could Save Your Failed Business

How to activate your executive status

Consciousness is what helps you move from the state of survival to your state of executive. You cannot change until awareness of the real problem comes first. If you have a piece of broccoli between your teeth, you won't be able to remove it until someone points it out to you or you see it in the mirror. So the first and most important step is to examine your own actions and think about how many of them were a reactive response to the freezing of fighter planes.

This journey of confidence is key in unlocking your executive status so you can see the opportunities and solutions that have always been there for you and your business. Then you realize that what you thought was the problem wasn't the real problem. And knowing this will help you resolve the real bottleneck that can affect your business.

It is precisely for this reason that some of the most forward-thinking companies are implementing things like mindfulness meditation into their culture. There are also neurofeedback technologies that can detect whether your brain is in a survival state or an executive state and train you to step out of survival moment by moment.

These are all great beginnings for improving performance as we continue to find more scientific evidence on how to move the parts of the brain that don't serve you. So take your time every day just to watch. How often do you take part in the reactive response to a fighter jet freeze?

Do you notice your triggers where it bothers you? This is a fight reaction.

Do you notice times when you hesitate because you are not in the mood for work? That is a flight answer.

Do you tend to get indecisive when you have too much work on your plate? That is a freeze answer.

Whatever you notice, once you become more aware of these reactive survival responses that are significantly delaying your progress, you have given yourself the strength to begin the process of change and improvement.

Related: 5 Reasons Businesses Fail (Infographic)

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