Critically thinking about your business challenges can help achieve long-term success
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As an entrepreneur, you’re likely brimming with ideas. But, sometimes landing on the idea that leads to a successful business can seem harder than it should. If you’re stuck trying to uncover the right idea, I have three strategies that might work: break down the problem, connect the dots and avoid one and done thinking.
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I identified these steps at the beginning of my career, well before I became the director of the Innovation Lab at Farmers Insurance. Back then I was working in biotech as a molecular biologist. As a molecular biologist, I was often searching for an answer about a connected and complex system. My lab-mates and I would conduct numerous tests of hypotheses before finding a solution, looking for new ways to make the problem smaller and identifying patterns along the way.
As a lifelong gadget hound, I preferred the tech in my job to the bio. Much to the chagrin of my parents, who thought a career in the hard sciences was close enough to having another doctor in the family, I ultimately switched from molecular biology to technology. But, I still apply the three-step process to my work, especially when I meet with entrepreneurs who come to the Innovation Lab to pitch their product. Below are ideas on how to make these strategies work for you.
1. Find a problem and break it down.
The best businesses fill a gap in the market. Solutions saturate the world right now — especially app-based ones. Ask yourself, what problem do I want to solve? More specifically, what would I like to make better or easier? That’s how you land on a clear mission.
When identifying a solvable challenge, entrepreneurs can fall into the trap of thinking too big. Avoid the temptation to make statements like, “I’m going to disrupt the umbrella industry” or, “I want to invent the new iPhone.” Instead, start small. Michael Dubin didn’t launch Dollar Shave Club to create a market for subscription-based men’s grooming; he just saw an opportunity to sell cheaper razors. Defining a smaller goal that you are trying to solve for dictates everything else.
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2. Connect the dots.
Steve Jobs once told Wired, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.” Looking for opportunities to connect events or observations can lead you to a great idea. You probably have a list of things in the back of your head that you’ve noticed, problems you know need solving. Take time to connect the dots on those ideas to find inspiration for a possible business.
Connecting dots requires being curious and continually looking for opportunities to learn. Feeling stuck in a learning rut? Look for new sources of knowledge in people outside your usual circles. Find ways to interact with people from all types of businesses, not just the merry band of entrepreneurs you might find at a local meet-up or coworking space. People similar to you have valuable insights to give because you have a shared experience but finding people in larger, more established companies can be just as fruitful.
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3. Avoid “one and done” thinking.
It is rare that an entrepreneur’s first idea is the one that takes off. You’re likely familiar with the idea that the vast majority of businesses fail in the first year. So, if you find yourself getting stuck while trying to find your big idea, keep going. Continue to workshop it and iterate until the idea clicks.
The scientific method can be your friend here. It’s a process that leaders like Elon Musk use to come up with new ideas or to start a new business. You may remember the scientific method from middle school as the multi-step method of observation, measurement, experimentation and formulation of questions or hypotheses. Using the scientific method can help you identify a product or service to create, run tests to make sure it is fulfilling its purpose and compile data to demonstrate its value to investors.
Finding your next big idea can take time, but that’s not all bad. Critically thinking about your startup will help you be a better leader and entrepreneur in the long run.