Startup Founders Don't Ask for Directions Because They Don't Know They're Lost

Geico Insurance is currently running a hilarious ad depicting Tarzan and Jane swinging through the jungle. They are lost. Despite Jane’s insistence, Tarzan refuses to ask for directions to the waterfall. The ad cleverly plays off the overused and - in today’s politically-correct charged environment - potentially sexist stereotype that, when lost, men are too [insert your adjective here] to ask for directions.

This isn’t about the real or perceived different way men and women navigate. Some psychological studies have indicated that the main reason someone doesn’t ask for help is the person doesn’t see him/herself as “lost”. He trusts that his mental maps will lead him to find the way.

Unfortunately, in a real jungle, that could lead Tarzan away from water or into the jaws of a hungry tiger and, ultimately, to his untimely death. In the entrepreneurial "jungle", founders who don’t even know they’re lost will likely find their way into the jaws of unhappy customers, employees and investors. And that, ultimately, can lead to their own untimely death.

So, it’s not necessarily that an entrepreneur only needs to develop the skill to ask for help (yes, that’s a skill in and of itself). Rather, it’s the need to develop the understanding that, as leaders of a fledgling enterprise, founders must accept the hard truth that they don’t even know what they don’t know. In other words, they don’t know when they’re lost.

Fortunately, many of the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with, upon checking their egos at the door, have learned how to watch and listen for the clues that they’re lost. Only at that point can they ask for direction.

Just like them, you can learn the skill to identify when you’re lost.