A few weeks ago, in conjunction with the currently trendy MOOCs (massively online course) that seek to reach tens of thousands students simultaneously, if not more, I was asked to give a public talk titled ‘Thinking like an Entrepreneur.’ The talk was part of outreach to the Cambridge community.
I have a few things to say about this, having immersed myself in working with entrepreneurs for the last close-to two decades, though rightfully the talk should perhaps have emphasized the context within which I have more experience, emerging markets (mostly India, but also China, the middle east, and occasionally Latin America and Africa, with no exposure to Eastern Europe). Though, I do think that some of these insights are useful to all entrepreneurs, irrespective of sector and geography.
There is a science and an art to entrepreneurship. The science refers to the ‘hard’ principles, the ‘art’ to the softer side. What do I mean?
Among other things, by ‘science’ I refer to:
- Structuring deals with capital providers, with angels, funds, private equity and so on
- Structuring deals to align incentives with talent pools
- Structuring alliances
- The protection of intellectual property locally and globally
By ‘art’ I refer to some of these issues:
- The ability to analogize, most insights are in the interstices of known bodies of knowledge. So someone who can arbitrage between these is at an advantage
- Contextual intelligence – developing the intuition of when and how insight transfers. When can one copy ideas from elsewhere (legally!) and when might ideas not transfer so well
- Creating an environment where there is diversity, but not too much, and not too little
- Creating a team ethos in a way that balances between celebrating individual achievement without compromising organization ‘mission’, a tricky balance struck differently in different situations
- Train yourself to share the fruits of what you achieve, not only is it motivational but it ends up being instrumentally useful too most of the time
I think the art part is harder than the science part, that is, the hard stuff is easy the soft stuff is hard, as I pointed out in an HBR article I wrote last year, titled Contextual Intelligence.
I’ll try to elaborate in a series of subsequent posts.
These are not recipes for success, not short-cuts. The ‘get rich quick’ approach to entrepreneurship is sheer nonsense. Rather, these are just principles that help channel effort and reduce the error rate.
I’d still rather be lucky than right, but with these principles, hopefully I raise the odds that I run into Lady Luck!