Frederik Van Lierde

Startup Mindset Reset: Overcoming Naive Realism

Ever feel like your startup’s stuck in a loop? 🔄 It might be cognitive biases at play. Make smarter decisions, avoid common traps, and drive your startup forward. Startup Mindset Reset: Overcoming Naive Realism

What is Naive Realism + History?

Naive realism is the belief that we see the world exactly as it is, assuming our perception of reality is the complete, unbiased truth.

This concept, with roots in philosophy and psychology, suggests that humans tend to think their understanding of the world reflects its absolute state, overlooking subjective interpretations.

For startups, this mindset can be a trap, leading to oversimplified views of complex market dynamics or customer needs.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Encourage diverse perspectives within your team.
  2. Regularly challenge your assumptions through customer feedback.
  3. Use data to validate your hypotheses, not just to confirm them.
  4. Encourage a culture of curiosity and continuous learning.
  5. Engage with mentors and industry peers for broader insights.


A tech startup may assume their new app’s interface is intuitively obvious, only to find out through user testing that many find it confusing. Acknowledging this gap between perception and reality can lead to crucial improvements.


Projection involves assuming others share the same beliefs, knowledge, or attitudes we do. As a start-up founder, this can lead to misjudging market demand or underestimating the need for customer education.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Conduct thorough market research to understand your audience.
  2. Develop personas based on real customer data.
  3. Test your marketing messages across different segments.
  4. Listen actively to customer feedback and adapt accordingly.
  5. Use A/B testing to refine your approach based on actual behaviour.


A startup creating a financial tool may project its own financial literacy onto its target market, overlooking the need for educational content that would make its product more accessible and useful.


Extrapolation is the practice of predicting future events based on current or past data.

For startups, relying too heavily on extrapolation can lead to unrealistic expectations or strategies that don’t account for changing conditions.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Use a range of scenarios, including worst-case, in your planning.
  2. Regularly update your predictions with new data.
  3. Balance quantitative data with qualitative insights.
  4. Diversify your strategies to hedge against uncertainty.
  5. Remain agile, ready to pivot as new information arises.


A startup might see rapid growth in its initial months and extrapolate this trend indefinitely, failing to plan for plateaus or downturns in the market.


Anchoring refers to the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered (the “anchor”) when making decisions.

Startups might anchor on initial pricing strategies or early feedback, limiting their flexibility and potential growth.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Seek multiple sources of information before making key decisions.
  2. Challenge initial assumptions with testing and experimentation.
  3. Encourage team discussions to explore a range of viewpoints.
  4. Regularly review and adjust your strategies.
  5. Be open to feedback from diverse sources.


An early customer’s willingness to pay a high price for a service might lead a startup to overvalue its offering, ignoring broader market expectations for more competitive pricing.


Negativity bias is the tendency to focus more on negative outcomes or feedback than positive.

Startups might overemphasize minor setbacks or critical feedback, overlooking successes and growth opportunities.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Balance negative feedback with positive insights and achievements.
  2. Establish a culture that views failures as learning opportunities.
  3. Set realistic, achievable goals to build confidence.
  4. Practice gratitude by acknowledging and celebrating wins, no matter how small.
  5. Use data to maintain an objective perspective on your progress.


After receiving a handful of negative product reviews, a startup might consider their product a failure, neglecting hundreds of positive reviews and the opportunity to address the issues raised constructively.


Conservatism bias in startups manifests as an over-reliance on past strategies or technologies, resisting innovation or change. This can stifle growth and leave startups trailing behind more agile competitors.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Regularly review and question your current strategies and tools.
  2. Encourage a culture of innovation and openness to change.
  3. Set aside resources for experimentation and R&D.
  4. Keep abreast of industry trends and technological advancements.
  5. Encourage and reward risk-taking and innovative ideas within your team.


A startup might continue to invest in an outdated technology because it’s familiar and proven, missing out on the efficiency and capabilities of newer solutions.

Clustering Illusion

The clustering illusion is the tendency to see patterns in random events. Startups might interpret market fluctuations as trends or make decisions based on coincidental events.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Use statistical analysis to distinguish between real trends and random occurrences.
  2. Avoid making hasty decisions based on short-term data.
  3. Consult with experts when interpreting data patterns.
  4. Encourage a sceptical attitude towards too-good-to-be-true interpretations.
  5. Diversify your sources of information and analysis to avoid echo chambers.


A startup might see a spike in sales following a specific marketing campaign and wrongly attribute it solely to the campaign’s effectiveness, ignoring other contributing factors like seasonal demand.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

For startups, this can mean overlooking critical feedback or data that contradicts their business model or product design.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Actively seek out and consider information that challenges your views.
  2. Use blind testing or third-party assessments to avoid biased interpretations.
  3. Encourage a culture of critical thinking and open debate.
  4. Assign devil’s advocates in meetings to ensure all sides are considered.
  5. Regularly review your business strategy against a broad set of data.


A startup might ignore user feedback suggesting a need for a feature outside their original vision, missing out on opportunities to enhance their product and market fit.

Choice-Supportive Bias

Choice-supportive bias occurs when people remember their choices as better than they actually were, overlooking flaws or problems. Startups might become too attached to their initial product ideas or strategies, ignoring evidence that suggests a pivot or rethink is needed.

How to Overcome It?

  1. Keep detailed records of decisions and their outcomes to review objectively.
  2. Boost humility and openness to feedback among leadership.
  3. Regularly solicit and act on customer feedback.
  4. Encourage a culture where changing one’s mind in light of new evidence is valued.
  5. Conduct post-mortem analyses on projects to learn from successes and failures.


After choosing a particular software architecture, a startup might downplay emerging compatibility or scalability issues, persisting with a flawed choice due to an emotional attachment to the initial decision.

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  1. Research and Feedback: Don’t just trust your gut; use detailed market research, listen to what customers are saying, and don’t shy away from data that challenges your assumptions.
  2. Stay Flexible and Open to Change: Even if you’re committed to a specific path, be ready to pivot based on new insights or market shifts. Holding too tight to the first plan or idea might hold you back.
  3. Learn from Every Outcome, Good or Bad: Embrace every experience as a learning opportunity. Analyzing what went right or wrong helps refine your approach and strengthens your strategy for the future.