Entrepreneurial Mindset: ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ And The Challenge To Raise Your Standards!

Tall Poppy Syndrome is a reference to the poppy flower that stand up taller than the rest of the field and tends to get cut down to size first because it's so visible. The same thing happens to achievers, and it can be a real threat to a healthy entrepreneurial mindset.
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It’s NBA playoff basketball time, and I’m glued to the TV just like much of America.

It’s so funny to me, because I can go the entire season without watching an NBA game, but when it comes to playoff time, I’m completely obsessed. It doesn’t matter who’s playing.

The reason why is because I just so enjoy watching people who are at the very top of their game in anything, in any sport. It doesn’t matter what it is – baseball, soccer, football, boxing – when it’s time for championships and playoffs, I’m glued to it.


I just like seeing people that are absolutely obsessed with being the best and that are truly at the top of their game. And the NBA playoffs this year means we’re getting to watch Lebron James, Steph Curry, and several other players that are some of the best ever at this game. It’s just incredible.

But there is a downside that always comes along with watching athletes attempt to perform at the highest levels…

What makes me insane: the ‘Armchair Quarterback’

LeBron James – love him or hate him – is an unbelievable success story, both on the court and in business. And apparently it seems like in his family life as well. You don’t hear a lot of real controversial dirt on the guy, even though he is in the spotlight and at the top of one of the most competitive fields in the world.

What you WILL hear is a bunch of middle aged, overweight guys who have never competed at a high level at anything in life, just absolutely tearing into LeBron James.

“He sucks! He’s all washed up! He’s too old! He’ll never be as good as Jordan! Can you believe he missed that shot?! I would have nailed that!”

It just makes me absolutely insane.

If you go to an NFL football game, it’s the exact same thing, right? The quarterback throws an interception and there’s always those loud-mouth clowns that are just going crazy, screaming about how bad the quarterbacks sucks and how they could do better if they were in the game.

Yeah you could, pal. Yeah you could.

It drives me crazy that people are so able to hold others to this incredibly high standard of performance, and yet they’re not doing the same for themselves.

What separates us from the animals

I’m actually in the process of reading an incredible book right now called “Principles” by Ray Dalio and if you’re not familiar with it, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy.

Dalio is one of the most successful investors ever, and is a very interesting, introspective guy who’s written this book and created a video series about what he thinks are the principles to life and success no matter what you’re doing.

I’m fascinated by the entrepreneurial mindset and psychology in general, so this book is a fascinating learning opportunity for me.

In the book he talks about – and philosophers have talked about this forever – the idea that what separates us from the animals is our mental capacity to observe and to think.

To consciously observe life and to observe ourselves within life, so that we can actually step outside of ourselves and see who we are, what we are doing, what we are thinking, and how are we behaving…versus purely just reacting and responding like an animal in nature.

That’s what makes us different.

But it seems like the ‘Armchair Quarterback’ has lost that capacity! When you see somebody being critical of somebody else and not able to step outside of themselves and observe themselves with that same lens, it’s pretty painful to watch.

The reality is that we’re all guilty of not performing at the highest level that we can in some area of our life, and unfortunately we are all in some degree of denial about it.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Entrepreneurship and the world of business is my arena, not the basketball court. But unfortunately, entrepreneurs have this same dynamic happening…it’s called ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome‘.

I believe the phrase comes from Australia or New Zealand, and it’s the tendency of people to disparage or discredit someone who has achieved great things, particularly notable wealth or prominence.

The ‘tall poppy’ is a reference to the poppy flower that stand up taller than the rest of the field and tends to get cut down to size first because it’s so visible. The same thing happens to achievers, even here in America where we are supposed to be the most culturally supportive place in the world of people living the ‘American Dream’.

The HUGE concern about Tall Poppy Syndrome to me is that entrepreneurs think this way about OTHER entrepreneurs.

Rather than admiring them, respecting what they’ve achieved, and learning from them – other entrepreneurs get envious and disparage the success they see others achieving.

This is a horrible approach to your entrepreneurial mindset if you want to be successful, because you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to get energized and learn from someone else’s success!

Turn that lens!

It’s very easy to be critical. And we all do it; I’m just as guilty as anybody.

But how often do you turn that lens on yourself? How often do you take an honest look in the mirror and acknowledge your weaknesses?

One of the most powerful mental exercises I’ve used on myself over the years is to pretend that there is a tv camera on me 24/7, broadcasting every moment of my work for the world to see.

Would I be proud of what they see? Would my effort, focus, and dedication to being my best be worthy of their attention?

It’s a very powerful exercise!

Turn that lens and consider yourself just as important as a pro athlete or a celebrity that you’re so easily critical of!

I mean, clearly you MUST consider yourself just as important as someone who plays a game for a living, or pretends to be somebody else for a living, right?!

We put athletes and entertainers up on this pedestal, and yet you are living a real life building real businesses and trying to provide jobs that will feed families – surely that’s just as important and worthy of scrutiny!

And yet, most of the time we’re not holding ourselves to anywhere near as high of a standard as we hold the people we see on tv or on the basketball court.

Ouch! Painful, but true.

The Challenge

I pose the challenge to anybody reading this: use this as an opportunity to make this your playoff season and to take a close look at your performance in the key areas of your life:

In your business, your relationships, your health and fitness, your finances, how much fun you’re having, how much you’re celebrating, etc.

You should see that there are areas in your life that you know you need to make tough decisions and make tough changes, but you haven’t.

And those areas where you need to show more discipline, but you haven’t.

Consider taking the opportunity to step outside of yourself and observe yourself and your own entrepreneurial mindset just like you would that playoff athlete that you’re watching on TV, or that celebrity movie star that you admire. Not to beat yourself up, but to try to acknowledge that there is another level for you to be playing at, and to use it as a call to action to get to that next level!

The challenge is issued. I’m going to do the same, you can count on it!

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Mike Cooch
Mike Cooch

LVRG CEO Mike Cooch is a serial entrepreneur who generates 6-7 big ideas before breakfast (conservative estimate) each day.

Mike has a Texas-sized passion for sales & marketing, business development, technology, and entrepreneurship.

He has founded successful businesses in technology services, agency services, publishing, and ecommerce (and flopped on a variety of attempts as well…keepin’ it real!).

His businesses have made the INC 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America three times, and have been recognized as a 'Best Place to Work' in their respective cities.

He has an MBA from Babson College, the #1 ranked entrepreneurship program in the world by US News 24 years running, where he has been a regular guest lecturer on 'Managing a Growing Business'.

He has three children, is an avid skier, hiker and traveler, and is loving his adopted hometown of San Diego.