To Be a Successful Entrepreneur, You Need to Think About Progress, Not Product



As an award-winning Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management, David Schonthal knows what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. During the September 23 episode of The Human Factor, a LinkedIn video series hosted by Eric Schurenburg, CEO of Inc.’s parent company Mansueto Ventures, Schonthal shared his thoughts on what makes a business succeed and why so many seem to fail:

“We often confuse the products or services we are selling with the progress our customers are trying to make,” Schonthal says. He contends that budding entrepreneurs often focus on the benefits or fuel of their products or services, and not on their customers’ resistance to change, which he calls friction. 

“Friction theory insists we take a step back from the myopic lens of the product or service, and consider all of the externalities involved,” Schonthal says, adding that, if you understand the physical, mental, and economic aspects of change, the fear and anxiety of the new, and the aversion to imposed change, then you can predict the friction your product or service will encounter. If you do this early and often, you’ll save time and money, and increase the chances of success. 

The ability to identify and deal with friction has benefits beyond boardrooms. On the topic of vaccine hesitancy, Schonthal says people need to ask more ‘yes questions’ that help others develop self-generated arguments, spark conversations, and sidestep the friction of forced change. He says there is a brilliance in being able to make people familiar with the unfamiliar, citing as an example the elegant simplicity of naming a written computer page a document, which then goes to a folder, and eventually the trash. 

Asserting that outstanding entrepreneurs tend to be more problem-focused rather than product-focused, Schonthal says problem-focused people are typically evidence-led, humble, coachable, and determined. In other words: “People that are willing and eager to find out they are wrong, so they can get on with the business of being right.” For this reason, he says, the most important starting place for any entrepreneur is to ‘know thyself.’ He says that if you know the “whys,” the “what” is easier to create, and the path becomes much clearer.

So ask yourself: “what is the why behind the what?” 



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