Four productive beliefs about entrepreneurship, part I
[This post is part of a series on four main myths that discourage entrepreneurship and how to overcome them. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
If the four statements of the past few posts are myths and unproductive, what beliefs might the entrepreneur-to-be hold that are more productive? What other beliefs are motivating entrepreneurs who aren’t held back by the counterproductive ones?
The counterproductive myths are:
- You need a great idea to start a business.
- Working for an established company helps prepare you for starting a venture.
- I should make some more money before starting my venture.
- Starting a venture is riskier than working at an established firm.
Okay, let’s replace the first myth with something productive.
Productive belief 1: Better than a great idea is a decent idea, the ability to listen to your market, and flexibility
The threshold for a successful idea is low. It only needs to be decent enough to pass the red face test — that is, no one gets mad at you for wasting their time even mentioning it — assuming you have the ability and willingness to use people’s feedback to improve the idea. When established companies do it, they call it research and development and market research. They do it because it works and you, the entrepreneur, should too.
The crazy thing is that because of the unproductive myth that you need a great idea to start, when your product finally succeeds people will ignore all your R&D and market research and presume you had a great idea to start. Partly they can’t see past the myth. Partly they want to excuse themselves from not starting their own venture.
A typical entrepreneurial product development pattern is as follows.
First, your internal development: you have your idea, at first half-baked. You think, “hmm… the world would be better if [the half-baked idea] existed. But it’s too crazy.” It’s too crazy to tell anyone. But it sticks in your head. You think about it more and realize a better way to describe it.
Next you share it: you describe it to a close friend, relative, or someone whose opinion you respect. If you want to protect the idea, you might keep it so vague he or she doesn’t understand. Then you use his or her response to figure out how to describe it effectively. Eventually you describe it effectively.
Now they respond: no matter how crazy you thought the idea, they may love it. In that case, you can run with it. If their face turns red and with anger you wasted their time, you may decide to stop pursuing it; or you may get a second or third opinion. Those two cases rarely happen in my experience. More often they say something like “I guess I could see it, but it’s too…” and they start to describe the problems.
Now you listen: that list of problems is also a list of improvements. You just got free market research. If you tried to pitch them the product they might not be helpful, but if you shared it saying you were looking for advice non-judgmentally, they’ll probably be helpful. If you listen without judgment, just saying thank you when they finish, you’ll have a good conversation.
Next you implement their advice: if you don’t like their advice this means you do nothing. If you like their advice you figure out how to incorporate it. This costs nothing because it’s just an idea, maybe still sketched on a bar napkin. Afterward your idea is better, at least by one measure — your interpretation of their values.
Next you iterate: treat implementing their advice like the first step in this process (internal development), continue by sharing it, and keep going until people stop criticizing and start saying it’s a great idea, if only they had ideas like that they’d start a business too.
Typically this process costs zero and results in a few great conversations and a feeling of self-empowerment as you realize you are capable of great ideas. Sharing your passions with others generally improves your life.
Of course, the process and execution are critical. Still, at a high enough level, this belief works and motivates people in the direction of action. You can fine tune the belief for yourself. In the end, an entrepreneur can have any number of ideas in this pipeline, costing nothing, benefiting him or her with potential business ideas, good conversation, and, most importantly, fun.
If you think in equations you might enjoy these:
Decent idea + listening to market + flexibility = successful product
Successful product + myth that success requires great idea = people think you’re a genius
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