Asking is the Answer

“I have so many great business ideas, but I don’t know how to get started.”  This is a common refrain.  Where to begin?  The most effective way to move your ideas forward is by Asking.

Effectuation offers a process for innovating during times of uncertainty.  As you look at each principle, its foundation is an Ask.  Dr. Sarasvathy at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, originator of Effectuation, has identified the “Ask” as the single most important granular unit required for entrepreneurial success.  Mastering the concepts around Asking increases the likelihood of favorable entrepreneurial outcomes. 

Four Categories of Asks   

There are four phases in delivering innovative ideas.  The first is identifying what you want to move forward with.  The second is getting stakeholders to buy into helping you bring forth the idea.  The third phase is getting participation from those outside your stakeholder network.  And the fourth phase is scaling the idea.

Each of these phases requires a particular type of Ask proficiency.  

1.      Ask Yourself

At the beginning you’ll want to become adept at Asking yourself some key questions.  These include: 

  • Who am I?
  • What do I know?
  • Who do I know?

The answer to these questions will clarify your interests, values, and priorities.  Truly ask yourself these questions.  Be honest with your responses.  The results will surprise you.  You will see that you already have a significant amount of resources at hand with which to begin your innovation process. 

For example, when asking yourself “Who am I?”, consider your likes, dislikes, experiences, passions, etc.  Dive deeper into this by asking yourself:

  • What is my reason for doing this?
  • What outcomes would I like to see happen?
  • What am I most afraid of?

This also becomes the building block for your story.  The more you understand yourself and your motivations for pursuing this innovation path, the more authentic you can be when making Asks of others.   

2.      Ask Others

It’s not always easy to ask someone for something.  But for entrepreneurs, it’s essential.  After asking yourself, one of the first Asks required to advance an innovative idea is asking someone to partner with you to make it happen.  Getting a co-founder on board, a champion, or an advocate of some sort who complements your skill set and can bring additional resources to the table is a fundamental requirement for entrepreneurial success. 

Many venture capital groups won’t even talk to an entrepreneur unless they have a co-founder vested in their concept.  Why?  Having two founders significantly increases your odds of succeeding.  In order to get this person to commit, you’ll have to Ask.  Once you’ve achieved this, and begin to see the value that this one Ask can bring to your venture, you’ll be more likely to continue increasing the number and complexity of your Asks to others.  

3.      Get Others to Ask You

As word gets out about your innovation, you’ll find yourself in situations you hadn’t anticipated – meeting with new people and organizations.  In this phase, you again broaden your experience with Asking by getting others to ask you.   As you have co-creative conversations, you’ll want to present your ideas in a way that invites others to join. 

Forget focusing on pitching where you throw out a series of facts, features, and fantasy about what your innovation could grow to be and ask someone if they’re in or out – take it or leave it.  Instead, paint a picture of opportunity where you give others the chance to identify ways in which they see a role for themselves in advancing your venture.  Give them the time and space to create a role for themselves and Ask you for the opportunity to participate. 

4.      Get Others to Ask for You

In the final phase, your idea is out there and growing.  At this point, the focus is scale.  How can you broaden your impact?  Get others to Ask for you.  Create a culture of Asking in your organization.  Don’t just promote it, but put it into practice.

This increases the amount of influence an entrepreneur is able to have and expands their reach.  In order for someone to Ask on your behalf, they must feel vested in the outcomes.  Continue to be open to stakeholder participation.  This further magnifies the effect. 

Figuring out the first step in an innovation process can appear daunting at first.  It’s not.  Start with Asking.

--Written by Sara Whiffen, Founder & Managing Partner, Insights Ignited LLC