Gartner’s constant: Attention hypomanic entrepreneurs, everything takes 2.5 times longer than you think

What’s the number one cause of business failures? Cash flow. Many viable businesses die because products and services don’t go out the door, and money doesn’t come in the door, as fast as expected. I often tell my hypomanic entrepreneurs they should have a side view mirror on their car that says “objects may be farther away than they appear.” Over the years, I noticed a mathematical structure to this optical illusion. Everything takes more than twice as long as you think it will, and costs more than twice what you think it will. About 10 years ago I began telling my clients, however long you think that will take/cost multiply it by 2.5. What’s weird, is how uncannily accurate that number has proven to be.

Just this week, I amazed an entrepreneur when he said “I thought I could start my business with 100K…..” I interrupted him. “It probably took 250K.” He was shocked. “the final number was 245k. How the hell did you know?”

In physics, we have discovered a number of mathematical constants, such as the speed of light,  that seem to exist naturally in the universe. This constant exists not in the physical world but the psychological one. Why?

To answer that question we need to look at the biology of hypomania. It’s often said that markets run on fear and greed. In fact that’s pretty accurate Humans have two basic motivational systems. One based on fear, that centers around a structure in the brain called the amygdala, is based on avoiding danger. The other, called the “positive incentive motivation system, driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine, is fueled by the excitement of achieving a positive goal: Getting the girl, making a discovery, winning the contest. Hypomanics  are driven people. All of their drives are in overdrive, and their inhibitions to action are removed. What is juiced is their positive incentive motivational system. They are excited! Because the girl, the discovery or the victory feels not only achievable but close at hand. In other words, the optical illusion is built into the hypomanic brain. Feeling like “we’re almost there” is part of what generates the drive that actually gets you there. If it felt miles and miles away, it might feel hopeless. But ask any hypomanic, and he or she will tell you they are on the precipice of changing the world, not decades away from say, curing cancer.

Thus, there is a good evolutionary reason for this perceptual distortion, but at the same time, it can become a fatal flaw.

I’m not claiming to have discovered the next Phi, but Gartner’s constant could be very useful to you. Multiply by 2.5 and keep your business alive.