I’ve taught at the Wharton School’s Center for Entrepreneurial Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania for 16 years and been privy to important research.  The latest research by Wharton’s Ethan Mollick with Shankar Vendantam, University of North Carolina, alarmed me as I thought about the possible implications for women in sales and business.

From past research, we know that only 1 in 4 businesses is run by a woman and women businesses grow more slowly.  But we also know that women-owned businesses are growing faster than all business in U.S.  Yet entrepreneurs globally are overwhelmingly men. Sales has long been considered the most entrepreneurial among careers because of the pay for performance aspect of the job.  Women continue to prove themselves as highly capable in sales.  So why are most entrepreneurs men?

Professors Mollick and Vendantam researched one aspect of entrepreneurship to answer this question. They studied 90,000 projects on Kickstarter, the largest platform for crowdfunding.   They found striking differences between men and women when these would-be entrepreneurs asked for money and failed.

They examined how likely people were to launch a second project if the first project failed.  When men failed, they mostly saw the failure as a “blip” and, for the most part, tried “again and again and again” and, with enough attempts, finally succeeded.  But women tend to take a failure as a stop sign and give up.

In fact, failing the first time is a strong predictor of the likelihood of failing the next time.  Therefore, women are more rational in their decision.  After all, being over-confident means ignoring the results, ignoring objective evaluation and pushing forward.  We know there is a down side to being overconfident, but what about the upside?

To add to the problem, when women succeed they tend to be more humble and to attribute their success to luck and having lots of friends.  When men succeed, they tend to attribute their success to the “market recognizing their genius”.

Does this mean women should be more overconfident?  The answer may be yes. The research showed that when women are launch a second project, their success increases by a third. This does not mean losing humility. I believe that it is possible to be humble about success, but also confident about what it took to achieve it.  It is a matter of how success is handled and not confusing luck and being liked with competence, creativity, and smarts.

What is the implication of this lack of hubris and humility for women in sales?  As an entrepreneur, a woman in sales, and coach and trainer to many women in sales, I have observed and experienced the plus and minus of humility.  Certainly overconfidence can cause a salesperson to miss important signals.  But this research shows that overconfidence also feeds drive and creates the ability to keep going when the desired results are not forthcoming, and still believe in yourself in the face of failure.  I think the winning formula is having the overconfidence to try again, the humility to look at all the factors that led to the success or failure, and the wisdom to learn something from the experience.

When things don’t go as planned, how good are you at bouncing back and looking at the miss as a “blip”, not a warning sign?