But there is a dark side to this — remember the late, great startup mentor Notorious BIG’s wise words, “never get high on your own supply”. If you only sell or acknowledge the best case version of your startup, you miss out on opportunities to learn and risk alienating your own team.
Equally, you can’t dwell in the worst parts of your business everyday without damaging belief in the possible. You have to remain a quantum founder living simultaneously in both states of extreme optimism and extreme realism — which is no easy task.
When I was a founder alongside Wendy Tan-White and Eirik Pettersen, I wish I’d used this technique more. Our company Moonfruit was a 15 year journey through boom and bust and eventual exit success. Wendy and I got married en route and played tag-team CEO during our journey while also having a family — like playing double or quits with your startup (but that’s another story!).
At times, as CEO I felt the pressure to always push the most optimistic case. When I wasn’t CEO I felt more inclined to push the realistic case and battle what I saw as over-optimism.
The bull and the bear cases gives you the framework and permission to look at the extreme best case for your business and the extreme worst case. Neither of these are correct, but by expressing each fully you give yourself, your team and your leadership permission to voice and explore the full set of their beliefs.
It allows everyone to put it all on the table and see what’s really there from all angles. It stops a review from being personal and stops it being a debate.
As a leadership team (including a husband and wife!) debating exactly where you are on the ‘we’re amazing’ to ‘we’re lucky to be a business at all’ line can be a bruising and largely pointless debate. Both are true. Both are not true.
Denying either perspective, or dwelling on only one is damaging. Frankly it doesn’t matter where exactly you are on the spectrum, it just matters that you take the best from both ends — celebrate the true awesomeness, and critically inspect the real risks, failures and challenges.
So when you’re reflecting on the year just gone or planning the year ahead, use the bull and bear case to help you do it — it will allow you the space to explore the full range of outcomes and performances and learn from them, without having to create only one narrative for your journey. I definitely wish I’d done this sooner.