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The Puppy Love Syndrome

It’s always reassuring when a new bit of research is published that documents something I’ve observed and written or talked about for years. 

Case in point:  What I call the “Puppy Love” syndrome. 

Now the Harvard Business School has published research documenting this in what the authors call the “IKEA Effect”.  In short, the researchers had subjects assemble origami projects or assemble kits from IKEA.  They documented that most people give their creation a higher grade than even those assembled by professionals.  The message is that people tend to fall in love or have higher opinions of things they have worked on themselves, often ignoring obvious flaws in their creation.

This description is from an article I wrote some years ago.

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The Puppy Love Syndrome 
            Do you remember the first great love of your life, when you were a teenager and knew everything, and your parents were old fashioned know-nothings?  The boy or girl who was the object of your adoration could do no wrong.  When I was a teenager, anyone, especially my mother, who I felt implied even something slightly derogatory about my adored was an uncaring jerk who just didn't understand.  Obviously, they had never felt like this.  I mean, really, what could a parent know about being in love?  Puh-lease.
            You'd think we'd learn, but do we? 

            It is amazing how many prospective entrepreneurs come into a class or workshop of mine with this wonderful business they've thought up, a business that will make their fortune, a business wondrous in scope, dimension and possibility.   Anyone who questions this idea’s brilliance just doesn’t understand.  Puh-lease.
            Sigh.  It's Puppy Love all over again.  As with any first love, people have to work their way through it before they regain their sanity and perspective.  The danger here is that people will start this business without laying the proper groundwork.

            The symptoms:  It's usually a first business effort; and the business idea is all they can think of; it grows daily in grandeur and riches.   The sure way to tell if this is Puppy Love is whether or not the sufferer can put the idea on the shelf and walk away.  If they can't do that then they've got Puppy Love and are skating on thin ice.
            If you recognize yourself in this description, your solution is to force yourself to put your business aside and develop profiles, i.e., write basic business plans, for two or three other unrelated business ideas.  When you come back to your original idea it will be with a fresh eye and hopefully more critical judgment.

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I first became aware of this problem during a class in the early 1980s.  It was a small business marketing class at Portland Community College in Oregon.  It was interactive in that I asked the students to each make a presentation on their idea in front of the class then asked the class to respond.  It was sort of a focus group.  One veterinarian just opening her practice in a small town got some great promotional ideas out of the experience.  One student suggested she advertise that she “makes horse calls.”

One very nice woman in the class refused to reveal her business concept for fear that someone would steal it.  As the other students filed out after the sixth and last session, she approached me and in strictest confidence told me her idea:  to start a franchise system of home cleaners.

On the table was a current copy of “Opportunity” magazine, which I opened to a page listing about a dozen home cleaning franchises already available.  At first she was very downcast over this information until I explained to her that she had identified a niche with great potential, and that she needed to research these competitors and position her business in a different way.  And to learn from their mistakes.

If someone else isn’t already doing what you have in mind, then find out why.  Usually, someone has tried it or something similar and it hasn’t worked out, often because of lack of a prospective customer base.  Proctor & Gamble test markets hundreds of possible new products a year, but only a few, like one of two percent, make it onto the market.  You’re much better off doing a variation on a theme than something entirely and wholly new.

This is specifically why anyone starting a small business must do a business plan that explores all the potential competitors, possible pitfalls, costs, and options.
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The Entrepreneur's Bookshelf ~
The more you know about small business management and financing before you start, the more likely you are to succeed.  That's why I urge anyone thinking of starting a business to contact their local Small Business Development Center or Community College.  I have also organized this bookshelf for you at Powell's Books, the world's largest single site new and used bookstore, featuring the latest books on small business start-ups, marketing, and small business money management.   
A Selection Related to this Post:

Click on this link to see all the selections on ~

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Source:  The “IKEA Effect”: When Labor Leads to Love, by Michael I. Norton, Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School; Daniel Mochon, a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Diego; and Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Duke University.  Working paper copyright, 2011, by Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely.


  1. I actually first became aware of this problem throughout a class in the early 1980s. It was your own business marketing and advertising class from Portland Neighborhood College in Oregon. Education Degree


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