Small Business Superstitions and Why They Work

Small business superstitions are alive and well at Corpus Christi social media marketing firm Neovia Solutions.

My little social media marketing company in Corpus Christi, Neovia Solutions, is growing up. We’re moving into a bona fide office space on June 1. I went full-time with the business mid-February, and it’s hard for me to believe we’re already here. Aside from the fact we’re growing, I was equally excited about what this meant: I got to outfit the office.

Like all good start-ups, I trekked to Ikea to find the least expensive (yet majorly fashionable) office furniture I could. My little Pontiac Vibe was packed to the brim with cardboard boxes and silver metal legs and accessories – and yet, stuck in the midst of the brown and grey jungle, a little green sprig. Bamboo.

My business partner may beg to differ about the necessity of this little piece of office décor, but I am adamant about it’s luck-creating properties. My mom was raised in Japan, and she always said that bamboo brings luck to the room in which it resides. So what’s the first thing my first business’s first office needs? Bamboo.

And I’m not alone. Matt Egan, who owns the San Antonio SEO company Image Freedom, has a pair of lucky shoes he calls the “signing shoes.” He wears them to all his contract signings. Greenville branding firm Brains On Fire believes it’s a bad omen if a new employee eats alone their first day of work. Ryan Paugh, cofounder of Gen Y networking site Brazen Careerist, carries a bad-energy blocking stone in his pocket.

For some, business superstitions revolve more around about not creating bad luck. Employees at San Antonio Web Design firm Internet Direct think it’s bad juju just to talk about their servers. “We don’t ever speak badly about our servers,” tweeted David Stinemetze. “They somehow always find out and crash on us.”

I don’t actually have any reinforcing proof that bamboo has brought me luck. As a matter of fact, I ended up killing all of my bamboo when I moved in with my boyfriend by accidentally leaving it outside for a few months, unattended. And we’re still pretty lucky in love.

But, I persist in my belief enough to think it’s better to have bamboo in our office than not to have it. And that seems to be the key to understanding why superstitions actually work.

SUPERSTITIONS CREATE PERSISTENCE.

This is due to something psychologists call the partial reinforcement effect. Here’s my Alton Brown-style breakdown of partial reinforcement: Whenever someone does something expecting reinforcement (the thing we think is going to happen as a result of our superstitious activity), and it doesn’t happen, it actually creates a sense of persistence in that person. In other words, we keep doing the superstitious activity believing that reinforcement will occur at some point. Or that the thing we want to happen has come at certain times in the past as a result of this superstitious action, maybe not all the time, but this might be one of those times.

So, why do I think our superstitions are actually good things for business owners and start-ups?

BECAUSE START-UPS REQUIRE PERSISTENCE.

We grind and toil away in our businesses, sometimes 16 hours a day, giving it all our best. Every day we are faced with the possibility of rejection, failure, negative bankrolls, and bad decisions. We’re not superstitious because we need the extra luck more than others – it’s because of that partial reinforcement effect.

The fact that we put on the lucky shoes over and over again means that even though we didn’t sell the last two clients we wore them to, we’re still wearing them. And that’s important because it means that we’re still pitching and we’re still selling. We are persistent in the belief that we will sell again in those lucky shoes. And because we believe it, we’ll keep putting them on and trying. And the trying is what makes them work.

And so, our lucky bamboo awaits it’s permanent home in our new office, to do it’s job: make me go out there every day, believing that today will be the day the bamboo will deliver me luck.

8 Responses to “Small Business Superstitions and Why They Work”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nan Palmero, MBA, Holly Hoffman, Stephanie Mayne, Internet Direct, David Stinemetze and others. David Stinemetze said: RT @hollyhoffman Small Business Superstitions & Why They Work: http://ow.ly/1NR0N ~ I feel famous now. Lol [...]

  2. JulieD says:

    Congrats to you, Holly, and your company! :) I love seeing your tips appear on my news feed via the Neovia fan page. :-) Hope the bamboo brings you great luck. My Mom has tons at her business in Orlando.

  3. Holly Hoffman says:

    Thanks, Julie! I’ll post some photos of the new office on the Neovia fan page once we’re done. It’s so exciting!

  4. Honey says:

    Hey lady, good to see a post! Yes, TONS of studies have shown that intermittant reinforcement is the most effective way to instill a particular behavior. And I love Alton Brown.

  5. I was just going through my reader thinking, “When was the last time Holly wrote something,” and then BAM! What kind of reinforcement is that?

    And as someone who played collegiate baseball I’m not stranger to some pretty bogus superstitions, and I’ve seen them work first hand.

    Finally, I’m psyched that Neovia is doing so well! Hopefully at some point it will be able to finance your coffee/sandwich shop/cafe dream. :)

  6. Eric Dodds says:

    Eric from Brains on Fire here – what a great post! I couldn’t agree with you more – our superstitions as a business go far deeper than just superstition. Whether we think it’s a bad omen for a new hire to eat lunch alone on their first day or a gigantic flag flying off of the side of the building every time we sign a new client, our weird beliefs mean something to us. New hires are new members of the family – it reminds us all that we’re all fighting together. Flying the flag reminds us to celebrate victories and work hard to have more celebrations in the future.

    May your bamboo continually encourage you to get up everyday and get after it for your business.

    And thanks for the mention – always love the opportunity to share our quirky weirdness.

  7. Holly Hoffman says:

    @Ryan: The psychology aspect of superstitions is really interesting to me. The idea that superstitions create persistence, the impetus to keep doing something over and over again, believing that it will finally work one of these days, is so cool.

    @Eric: I have a confession to make: I have a business crush on Brains On Fire! You guys appear to have an awesome company culture, and as our little company grows, I hope to emulate that. Thanks for contributing!

  8. Scott Asai says:

    Think of how superstitious athletes are with their pre-game routines. It’s not the actual superstition that makes them perform, but it becomes an added mental edge. It’s that type of visualization and mental focus that can push you over the top!

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