August is for Asking

What does it mean to “act like an entrepreneur”?  Is it a mindset?  An appetite for risk?  A way of life?  

Effectuation, defined by Dr. Saras Sarasvathy of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, provides us with a process and some key principles that entrepreneurs use when creating new things.  But when pushed to distill these principles to a single element that differentiates an entrepreneurial approach from a managerial mindset, Dr. Sarasvathy speaks of one thing:  the Ask. 

Asking proficiency is viewed as the differentiator between successful and aspiring entrepreneurs.  Successful entrepreneurs ask differently and with more frequency than aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Four Elements of a Successful Entrepreneurial Ask  

1.  Ask for anything. 

Entrepreneurs don’t limit their asking to what is expected.  They push boundaries and ask for anything they think could advance their idea.  

2.  Ask openly. 

Successful entrepreneurs ask in a way that leaves an opportunity for others to co-create outcomes with them.  Rather than position their Ask for a yes or no response, skilled entrepreneurs gain comfort with ambiguity.  They leave openings for people to suggest alternatives and consider these opportunities for co-ownership in the outcome. 

3.  Ask often. 

Asking is not limited to working hours or pre-established meetings.  Expert entrepreneurs are asking for big things all the time.  Everyone they interact with becomes a potential collaborator.  They are adept at stitching networks together to maximize resources. 

4.  Ask with optimism. 

Novice entrepreneurs fear the “no”.  They are concerned with vulnerability and rejection.  Experienced entrepreneurs have asked enough that they have learned optimism.  “Yes” outcomes occur more often than expected.  Encouraged by this, their Asks become grander and more involved.  This virtuous cycle repeats itself over time.  

Asking for More – and Getting More than you Ask For

Many entrepreneurs have an “if only”. 

  • If only I could get........
  • If only I could meet........
  • If only I could convince........

A few weeks ago, I put a challenge out to the attendees of a workshop I was conducting.  I asked them to think of a “stretch” Ask – something they thought was unlikely to happen.  Then I asked them to make that Ask over the weekend and report back on their results at the next workshop session. 

When I queried them on their results, the majority of people had positive stories to share.  One particularly compelling story was from a newly formed retail company.  For their business, a recognizable Instagram handle was a must.  Unfortunately, their brand name was already taken by an individual.  He wasn’t using it for a company – it was his actual first initial and last name.  They had discovered this only recently and were disillusioned. 

Inspired by the stretch Ask assignment, they took a long shot, reached out to the individual, and asked if he would give up his name.  Shockingly, he agreed to do so.  The cost he asked for?  Nothing. 

Why did he agree to do this?  He thought the new business was cool and that it would be neat to have his name align with the new brand.  Not only did he give up his account, he volunteered to promote the new company, spreading the word about the new line.  

What Will It Take You to Ask?

August is traditionally a slower work month.  The final summer push for vacations and family time often mean a few additional moments for thinking and planning before things kick up again in September. 

If you have the time, I would encourage you to use August to advance your innovation ideas through asking.  Consider the following five steps:

  1. What is your "if only"?
  2. Form an Ask from this “if only” that could advance your idea.
  3. Pick a person who you can Ask.
  4. Make your Ask.
  5. Repeat.

As you have successes, let us know.  Sharing your success stories will drive you to ask more as well as encourage others to take their own steps. 

Make August your time for Asking. 

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