Research & Thought Leadership

How to develop an entrepreneurial mindset

Dr Hari Mann

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2020 started with great hope. It had been 12 years since the last global recession, and confidence and the economic conditions for organizations to continue to grow were continuing the long run they’d enjoyed for over a decade bar a few blips.

Then came the Corona Virus, and the world as we know it, along with every business sector fundamentally shifted. As we emerge we see a series of ‘new normal’ markets emerge, each with different conditions for businesses, challenges, and opportunities but with one thing in common – the pressing need for businesses and their leaders to be more innovative and entrepreneurial to take on the challenges and exploit the opportunities presented in each of these new waves.

So how can you develop a mindset and the skills to ensure that innovation and entrepreneurial spirit are at the core of your response to the new normal? Here are some strategies to help you with the shift in your mindset and behavior.

Forget the rules

The entrepreneurial mind looks at things differently. It seeks to find out how it can take the critical and analytical abilities of our brains to find new ways of how things can be improved. Think about the way in which Steve jobs re-imagined the phone to create the ‘iPhone’, making a phone less about its ability to make calls and more about the tasks you could undertake on it. But this requires the ability to develop two specific skills. The first is to be able to suspend judgment, the second to cut out the negative talk track in our brains.

We are hard-wired to look at situations, be they business models or products and see them in a critical light. It’s the same process of how our brains assess danger and it’s a good quality to have in that context, but in innovation, it can hold us back and stop us from getting to the point when we can unthink the unthinkable. We, therefore, crave rules that tell us it’s ok to think like this, we also create them. For organizations, the processes and strategic plans they have in place provide the rules that frame their moves, and in doing so stifle the innovation and ideas if space isn’t given to break them sometimes.

For companies who want to encourage entrepreneurial mindsets and innovation, they might do this by encouraging rule-breaking. Allowing the freedom and the space for employees to break the rules is best done by creating the “spin-off’, whether that goes into a fully-fledged startup is for the business to decide. But letting those involved run their idea as though it was free from the organizational rules gives it the freedom to think, to disrupt and to break the rules of the business, the industry, and perhaps be the next big idea. So, it’s always best to go by the mantra, “rules, what rules, I only think about how I need to fix the problem.”

Fail, but only if you learn from your failure

Failure is part of the process of being innovative and entrepreneurial. It’s a certainty that you won’t get everything right and that you won’t have a plan that takes into account every possible issue you will face and has the correct solution to solve them. So making sure as a leader you are comfortable with failing means the teams you lead will also be comfortable as well. The key isn’t to continue to fail, that won’t work for you or your business. But to ensure you are constantly learning from the process. Setting up meetings to reflect daily on the previous days’ work, or weekly meetings to revise the plans in order to be agile makes you continually develop a process of constant learning and iteration. It’s the small changes that built up cumulatively make the difference, it’s where the innovation happens in any organization and it’s where leaders have the opportunity to inspire and motivate their teams to greatness. Leaders need to ensure they send out the right messages, at the right time to give their teams the psychological safety they need to be at the forefront of pushing the boundaries.

Making sure it’s the right type of failure is also important. Intelligent failures at the frontier of pushing the boundaries are not only acceptable, they’re on the roadmap that leads one to succeed in your project. But operational failures in predictable situations aren’t acceptable, these are down to avoidable mistakes and can cost organizations dearly. So it’s important to monitor and measure what’s going on to ensure the organization is constantly learning.

Mindset matters, but so does the ecosystem

So far, we’ve explored the mindset and culture needed in organizations to bring out innovation and to develop the entrepreneurial mindset. Mindset matters but successful ideas also need the right ecosystem.

The right ecosystem is the partnerships that are formed, the networks that are created, and the individuals who support those involved. Having the right mindset and the right team on track is key, but consideration to the environment and the connections that are made are a critical element of why so many start-ups and innovative organizations shift their physical space to be closer to those connections that will help them grow and innovate. To do this, it requires you to think about what resources you will need in each phase of the journey and be ready to continue to constantly focus your efforts on building an ecosystem hand in hand with developing the right mindset for you and your team.

Seeing is believing

When I’m asked what’s the fastest way to accelerate the development of an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset, it has to be to immerse them into the entrepreneurial world and innovation ecosystems that currently exist. Seeing is believing, in doing so they gain inspiration, find ways in which they can recreate the successes of others. It’s for these reasons we have the hotspots areas of Silicon Valley or Silicon roundabout in London. Like attracts like, and there’s no better way to learn behaviors than be around them.

Another way to develop the mindset is to live it, breathe it, and do it. Experiential programs let you immerse yourself in the life, the environments, and the situations that entrepreneurs go through and to reflect on where your mindset is and where it needs to be.

How to get started

It doesn’t matter where you might be on your innovation or entrepreneurial journey, the key for those starting out is to get started. Start experimenting and making the small changes to create the bigger shifts. For organizations or individuals who are looking to ramp up their existing efforts, it’s about thinking about the processes they use and trying out new ways to do things in order to achieve different results. Do the same thing, get the same results is a well-known quote that holds true. And above all else, enjoy the journey and make sure you feel excited about the innovation and inventions you might create.

Dr Hari Mann is a Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Hult International Business School and has over a decade of experience in academia and business. His main interests are in strategy, innovation, and entrepreneurship. His research looks at how businesses develop the culture, environment, and infrastructure to foster innovation and entrepreneurial activities.

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