Perseverance, Self-Delusion, American Idol, and Shark Tank By Dave Kahle

We’ve all squirmed uncomfortably watching some absolutely talentless candidate audition for American Idol. After they are told by the judges they have no talent, they either fall into tearful disappointment, or defiantly challenge the motivation, intelligence or integrity of the judges.

As we’ve watched, feeling really embarrassed for them, my wife and I would look at each other and ask:

“Didn’t anyone tell them?”
“Didn’t their parents or their family tell them that they had no singing talent?”
“How could they have so deluded themselves?”

The painful truth is that their subjective view of themselves clashed horribly with the objective truth disseminated by the judges. The clamor of those two forces slamming together resulted in an embarrassing life-changing moment, viewed by millions of people. The problem was they probably never held themselves up for review objectively, preferring to remain within their subjective self-image.

We see the same phenomenon in my new favorite show: Shark Tank. It’s not uncommon to have some capital-seeker’s business riddled by the sharks as the consensus coalesces that the business has little, if any, chance for success. On the way out, the disappointed entrepreneur vows to continue on no matter what. The sharks didn’t see the whole picture, or misunderstood what he/she is trying to do, or so they tell themselves.

As a business consultant for decades, I have my own similar list of stories of much less public, but no less deluded, business ideas. “It’s not a viable idea,” I have occasionally announced, only to see the business owner vow to continue on.

There is a fine line between perseverance and self-delusion.

Missing that distinction can be disastrous. I have seen the heartache, tension, financial hardship and even health issues that often accompany a business person’s unquestioned grip on an idea, person, or strategy that isn’t right. One of the saddest things I see in my practice is the business or life that wallows in mediocrity because the owner would not give up the pursuit of a flawed idea. Self-delusion, fully flowered, produces waste.

We all risk wasting time, money and emotional energy on the less-than-good idea. And, unfortunately, I think the tendency for self-delusion is growing to epidemic proportions in this country.

That seems to be a pretty wide-spread character flaw among American Idol contestants. Even the finalists exhibit it. Over and over again, the judges remark about a poor “choice of songs.” The typical response goes something like this:

“I don’t care what they think. I’ve always liked that song and I wanted to sing it.”

In other words, “It doesn’t matter what older and wiser experts think, my view is more accurate than their view.” Self-delusion rippled throughout a young adult’s self-image.

The rejected Shark Tank suitors vow to persevere in the face of street-smart experts counseling them otherwise.

Not that self-delusion is a new character trait. I’m sure that from the advent of mankind, people have been defensive to critics and protective of their self-images.

The environment that most strongly fertilizes self-delusion is characterized by isolation. The more time we spend in our own little worlds, without healthy dialogue with experienced cohorts, the more likely we are to sprout self-delusion. Irrigate those sprouts with the water of a group of folks around you who are more concerned with your feelings than speaking the truth, and you have a field that grows self-delusion as a bumper crop.

While isolation and “yes-men” are the culprits, we can vaccinate ourselves to life and business threatening self-delusion by actively pursuing the opposite.

Surround yourself with experienced people who have an interest in your success and create an atmosphere that encourages truth-telling. Experienced is the key word. I have often observed that the intuitive insights of experienced people are worth their weight in gold, while the opinions of inexperienced people are pretty much worthless. Experienced means folks who have lived through the conflicts and challenges of growing a business. You don’t go to a pastor for business advice, for example.

Having an interest in your success is the second criteria. These ought to be folks who have no vested interest in a decision that you make. Accountants, insurance agents, and lawyers all have a place in the decision-making process, but generally are going to benefit from you making one decision over another. Your street smart advisors should have no interest except your well-being.

Finally, you must create an atmosphere that makes it easy for your street smart advisors to tell you the truth. Take those defensive Shark Tank entrepreneurs who always know better than the sharks, or those ‘smarter than the judges’ American Idol contestants as great examples of what not to do.

Even the most honest and well-meaning street smart advisor can learn to sidestep the truth when he/she is continually met by defensive, “but, but, but” responses from you.

I like to think that our Truth@Work roundtable meetings meet all three criteria. In countless meetings, we have jointly counseled one another on a number of those “seemingly good ideas,” and often counseled the member to let the opportunity pass. For the most part, that advice has been taken, and time, money and energy saved.

In American Idol, as in business, it is rarely the one with the most natural talent who wins. It is the one who is mature enough to seek the suggestions of those experts around him, and disciplined enough to implement them.

About the Author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s premier sales authorities, and a Chapter President for Truth@Work. He’s presented in 47 states and ten countries, and authored twelve books which have been translated into eight languages and are available in more than 20 countries. In his virtual executive roundtables, he works with Christian executives from around the continent. Visit or He and his wife, Coleen, have raised 5 children, 19 foster children and enjoy 13 grandchildren. He splits his time between Grand Rapids, Michigan and Sarasota, Florida.

You may contact Dave at 800-331-1287, or

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