Entrepreneurs

The psychological trick that motivates Mark Cuban and Elon Musk to succeed

World-changing billionaire entrepreneurial icons like Mark Cuban, Elon Musk and Larry Page have to be somehow different than most humans, right? They must have an outsized ability to manage risk and to sit with fear. It is tempting to see them as different in an effort to understand their superhuman success.

Spoiler alert: They're not. They feel fear too.

"Everyone I know feels fear sometimes — you don't always see it, especially when you're looking at very senior leaders and innovators," says Adam Grant, the No. 1 professor at top-tier business school Wharton, best-selling author and management consultant to the likes of Facebook, Google, Goldman Sachs and the NBA. "But fear is a natural emotional response to an uncertain situation where you don't know how it's going to play out, you really care about the outcome and there's a real probability of negative consequences."

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Amy E. Price | Getty Images

The difference between these uber-achievers and most everyone else is how they manage the fear.

"One of the most important lessons that I've learned about managing fear comes from conversations I've had with some great innovators in the tech world. So I had a chance to sit down with Mark Cuban, Elon Musk, Larry Page and a bunch of other luminaries," Grant tells CNBC.

He talked to them about what it was like to launch Google, as Page did, or rocket ships, as Musk does.

"In the moment it often feels like we're going to embarrass ourselves if we fail, but in the long run, our biggest regrets are not our actions, they're our inactions." -Adam Grant, New York Times best-selling author

"They all said, 'You know I was actually kind of terrified that it wouldn't work and I don't want to stick my neck out for an idea that's going to just fail dramatically. I want to accomplish something really meaningful and that means succeeding.'"

In other words, the fear of failure was not as great as the fear of what would happen if they didn't try.

"This tracks with what we know from psychology about how people experience regret," says Grant. "In the moment it often feels like we're going to embarrass ourselves if we fail, but in the long run, our biggest regrets are not our actions, they're our inactions — they're the moments where we didn't take a chance or take a risk.

"And so what you see with a lot of these tech entrepreneurs that we could probably all do a little more of is — there's a little bit of mental time travel where they fast forward into the future and they imagine themselves having never tried pursuing the idea, speaking up with a suggestion that they believe in, and the anticipated regret of saying, 'I might never give this a shot' is incredibly motivating. And then you say, 'Yeah it might fail, but I'd rather fail than fail to try.'"

So the next time you feel fear about a project or opportunity, try implementing Grant's advice.

"A lot of people try to run away from [fear]," Grant tells CNBC. "The evidence says it's much more effective to embrace it and try to figure out, 'OK what are all the factors that are causing me to feel concerned, to feel anxious in the situation and then which ones do I have control over?'"

See also:

Wharton's No. 1 professor: 'Never give up is bad advice. Sometimes quitting is a virtue.'

Adam Grant: Resilience is the secret to success. Here are 2 ways to improve yours

Why Wharton's No. 1 professor recommends keeping a resume of your failures