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In his research, psychologist Robin Hogarth introduced the concepts of a naughty and kind learning environment to illustrate the fact that the feedback that any actor receives from the environment in which he acts is of a different quality. In turn, the quality of this feedback affects the quality of the inferences the actor makes.
Simply put, in some environments learning and improving is a simple task. In others, it is very easy to believe oneself an expert, while at the same time having a very weak understanding of reality.
A good example of a caring learning environment is the game of chess. The clear, immutable rules of the game and the near-instantaneous feedback you receive from your moves ensure that as you play more, you’ll understand the game more deeply and become better at it.
At the other end of the spectrum are malicious environments where information is hidden, convoluted and feedback is delayed, inaccurate and infrequent.
Related: Here’s Why Startups Need to Create a Workplace Learning Environment
Unfortunately, the environments in which startups most often exist are mean rather than nice. New, innovative startups thrive in unexplored, fast-paced sectors, which means information is scarce and your knowledge of the market can quickly become stale.
Fortunately, while it’s hard to change the fundamental qualities of the industry you work in, you can certainly influence the quality and frequency of feedback you receive, which by definition would make it a learning environment. more agreable.
This is the main reason why the industry standard first steps in running a successful startup are all related to gathering reliable feedback and information about your concept. Validating ideas and products is key to avoiding self-deception, as they improve the odds that the inferences you make about the market and your own startup are correct.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Gathering accurate market feedback is a skill in itself that you need to develop. It’s very easy to be fooled by vanity metrics that aren’t direct evidence of a move toward true product-market fit (which should be your ultimate goal in the early stages of startup).
For example, you might generate great investor interest in your project. Although this is generally a positive sign, it is not necessarily a true indicator of the viability of your idea. Investors may be investing because of your resume or great sales skills while being as blind as you are to the real future potential of your project.
Yet investors only risk a small portion of their capital, while as a founder you are risking years of your life that you could not recover. For this reason, while it would be tempting, it might be unwise to move forward with your ideas based on this single point of feedback.
Related: How to Create a Learning Culture in the Workplace
The best leading indicator of a startup’s product-market fit and future success is something called market pull – genuine, proactive interest from your consumers. For this reason, the best way to make your learning environment more enjoyable is to choose a KPI that reflects as closely as possible the reality of how actively your customers are using your product or service.
This is usually some sort of usage metric. For example, if you create video content, “hours consumed” could be your North Star, as it depends on how many people watch your content and the duration (i.e. their level of engagement ) – the main things you should care about. By actively measuring how your actions are changing this central KPI, you would be able to make much more informed decisions and you wouldn’t be wasting your time as an entrepreneur. This, in turn, would result in effective growth in your audience size and engagement, which would naturally lead to business growth.
In other words, focusing on it would make your learning environment more enjoyable. The feedback you receive is clear and readily available, which would reduce the chances of self-deception and improve your chances of long-term success.
Failing to make your learning environment more enjoyable leaves your success up to chance, and worse still, it doesn’t allow you to draw the right conclusions from your successes and failures.