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Curb Your Enthusiasm

Isn't enthusiasm a good thing? Aren't we urged to be enthusiastic about what we do? To be committed?

We are...but enthusiasm has a dark side too.

When the word first came into the English language (from Ancient Greek, via French) it had a far more extreme meaning. It meant to be possessed or inspired by a supernatural force and was used to describe the extreme religious sects that grew up with the Reformation in Europe. Enthusiast was a term of abuse, like fanatic or extremist today. It took more than two centuries for the word to acquire the modern sense of eager or motivated.

Don't Get Carried Away

It's this original aspect of enthusiasm that needs watching. There's an irrational aspect to it: a sense that emotions have taken over and the mind is on hold.

The dark side of enthusiasm is its ability to overwhelm caution in a flood of eagerness. When that happens, you're swept along on the current of your excitement, blind to anything that might suggest you're on the wrong track.

Worst of all, enthusiasm blocks your ears. You won't hear the warning signs that your audience isn't with you.

All First Attempts Are Prototypes

Very, very few entrepreneurs get it right first time. The usual pattern is a long series of rejections, leading up to a breakthrough.

Those rejections are necessary. Think of each one as a prototype of your final product. You put it together, show it to some important people and they tell you what they think.

With each rejection, you get feedback to improve your idea, until the final version is reached. If you'd gone to market with the first, it would likely have flopped anyway. Only the final version is good enough to fly.

So, if enthusiasm has blocked your ears, you'll miss the feedback. What you'll take to market is still Version 1.0 -- the one that wasn't good enough.

Talking To The "Big Dogs"

At some stage in putting your new business together, you'll have to sell the idea to some important people -- maybe investors or potential partners or others with the power to give you push forward or hold you back.

How do you make sure these "Big Dogs" will support you?

You don't do it by rushing in full of enthusiasm and nothing else.

Pick Your Time And Place

You get carried away by enthusiasm for a new idea. You tell your friends, but they don't seem enthralled. You're bursting to get the idea off the ground, so you rush around trying to win the support you need.

Maybe your idea really is a good one underneath, but if you continue like this, all you'll get is rejection and frustration.

Present What's In It For Them

The people whose support you need are busy -- very busy. They don't have time to deal with anything they don't immediately find interesting. Certainly not with someone whose natural enthusiam has blinded them to clear defects or gaps in their proposition.

Besides, like all of us, they're mainly interested in what's in it for them. Unless they see the benefits to them right away, they'll think you're wasting their time.

Enthusiasm can be contagious. But it can also make you so carried away by the benefits for yourself you don't stop to think what's in it for the people you want to win over.

Stay In Control and Pick Your Time Carefully

Curb your enthusiasm. Don't stop it or ignore it, just get it under control. Don't allow yourself to be carried away by all that emotion, even though it's positive.

Stop.

Think.

Plan and have patience. Pick Your Time.

If it's truly a good idea, it deserves to be presented how and when it has the best chance of success. If you rush off after a business idea that isn't properly thought through, it does very bad things to your credibility. Damage done there may have to be paid for far into the future.

Get To The Point -- Fast!

Big Dogs have virtually no patience. They're pressured every moment by people with grand ideas, people who want their support, and many who want their cash. They have no time to approach a idea in a roundabout way.

If you don't show them, right away, precisely what your idea is, why it's a good one and what they'll get out of it -- preferably in less than 100 words -- you've lost them.

Enthusiasts never feel they've explained an idea adequately. They go over and over it, adding little refinements and wandering off on fascinating diversions. They never use 100 words where 1,000 -- or maybe 10,000 -- are possible.

Make Your Best Points -- Then Shut Up!

Enthusiasm is like fire: a good servant but a bad master. Only if you remember to keep it within proper bounds, will it light up your listeners and bring them over into your side.

It's so tempting to keep working away at an unresponsive audience. Surely the next point will win them over. Or the next.

Think like a stand-up comic. If you haven't got your audience in the first minute or so, you never will. Further effort is digging in the bottom of a hole.

So make your best points, then keep quiet and listen. See how things are going. Respond to objections or questions.

The time for enthusiasm is when your audience is already on your side. If they're not, get off the stage as fast as you can and keep the credibility to come back another time. If you don't, you'll convince them nothing you can ever say in future will be worth hearing either.

All entrepreneurs need enthusiasm. It's the fuel that keeps you going. Just treat it like gas: A great thing to have in your personal tank, but not something you want to spray over everyone you meet -- especially if they may be smoking a big cigar.

Adrian W. Savage writes for people who want help with the daily dilemmas they face at work. He has contributed more than 25 articles to leading British and American publications and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Chicago Tribune.

You can find his blog on ethics, diversity and living life to the full at http://www.adriansavage.com.

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