In March, Americans frantically prepared for COVID-19 and sheltering-in-place. Many believed our supply chain would falter and leave many products unavailable. Toilet paper became an obsession. How would we survive quarantine without it?
As a result, toilet paper disappeared from the shelves! The sight of empty shelves caused us all to load up any time we saw a few spare rolls. And there kicked off a cycle… no TP? I need TP! Found TP? I’ll take it all. You need TP? Too bad, no TP. Find TP? Buy all the TP! It all ended one Saturday morning with a sprint through Costco, Supermarket Sweep style.
When sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the term “ self-fulfilling prophecy,” I don’t think he had a run on T.P. in mind. But the definition holds, “The prophecy of collapse led to its own fulfillment.”
Like everyone else, VCs are not immune to the effects of self-fulfilling prophecies.
Note: to avoid confusion with the work of the great Robert K. Merton, I’ve defined my framework as self-fulfilling cycles
A self-fulfilling cycle can start anywhere but has four phases:
- Situation — We’re stuck at home for the next few weeks. What do we need? Toilet paper, of course! I’ll go out and get some.
- Observation — I can’t find it anywhere. Every time I visit Costco, the employees are walking around with out-of-stock products. TP is on the top of every list!
- Interpretation — It’s going to be hard to find TP. I better stock up when I can.
- Action — I buy as much as I can whenever I can! Leave no roll behind!
This is an example of a single-loop cycle. A single-loop cycle occurs when there is only one set of observations, interpretations, and actions that all participants in the system experience.
We see this in venture investing often.
At a micro-scale, for example, it occurs when VCs are exposed to new markets. The first investment…