entrepreneurial mindset

Happy (Effectual) Halloween from Insights Ignited

What are you dressing up as for Halloween? Did you come up with your costume idea first and then try to find all of the pieces to complete the outfit, like doing a puzzle? Or did you look through your house, put items together and then realize you had a costume?

These approaches are examples of two different mindsets.

The First Mindset -- Managerial

Let's start with the first way. You decide on a costume idea.  Then you think of all the items you need to make this idea come to fruition.  Like assembling a puzzle, you begin your quest for the correct pieces. You search your closet and hunt through stores.  This approach is the managerial mindset. 

With this mindset you try to “see” the future and position yourself to benefit from your prediction.  Determining ahead of time what costume to wear immediately limits the possibilities and funnels efforts towards a predetermined end.

An Alternative Mindset -- Effectual

The second approach is effectual, starting with what you already have on hand.  This eliminates the need to come up with the idea ahead of time.  You shape the result as you create it.  Once you see what you have available to you, you develop options and try various combinations until you put together something that works for you.

For those dressing up, this means looking through your closet, your children’s dress-up trunk, your attic, your basement, for possible items to use.  Likely, the costume you end up with is one you hadn’t even considered when you started.

Moreover, once you have an idea of a costume, as you talk with others about it, they might contribute additional props that enhance your costume or take it in another direction.

Effectuation in Action

Although stemming from academic research, effectuation is something that is very much part of everyday life.  One of our own team members said:

"Every year when I think of a dress-up idea there are always a lot of “pieces” I'm missing, which entails time and money spent seeking out what I need. This year I tried an effectual approach.  I combined something from the back of my closet with something my daughter has in her toy room and then I paired up with my son so that I could play off of his costume theme.  When it came together it was an “of course!” moment.  I saved time.  I saved money.  I effectuated."

Maybe you did the same.  Imagine what else you could create if you applied this mindset to your professional life as well.  

Enjoy conjuring up your own effectual creations this Halloween!

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


Obstacles to Asking and How to Overcome Them

Heads you lose.  Tails you lose.  If that’s the bet, do you take it?  No.

For many people, that’s how they look at Asking.  Making an Ask can be a scary prospect.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get.  That’s a losing proposition.  Yet if you do ask, the result could also go poorly.  Another loss. 

How do you manage this?  The answer for many is – avoid asking.  But if you’re trying to bring an innovation into the world, that’s not an option

Instead, try these three steps:

1.      Recognize what’s keeping you from asking.

2.      Learn the tactics to overcome that issue.

3.      Ask, ask, and ask some more.

Over the past five years, Sara Whiffen of Insights Ignited has worked with Dr. Saras Sarasvathy of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business to uncover what it is that prevents people from asking.  They have interviewed and surveyed successful askers, unsuccessful askers, and those who avoid asking altogether.  While there is still a lot of analysis to be done, a few key obstacles to asking are already emerging.  

1.      Cultural Bias of the Self Made Myth

American culture is deeply rooted in the idea of being self made – lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps.  The idea that one person can do it all and grow a successful venture without assistance is completely unrealistic.  All innovative ideas require someone to take a chance on them, to opt in to participate.  Asks are necessary to grow ideas.

Tactics for Overcoming

Stories of legends are often written to inspire.  But they can gloss over many of the gritty details.  Take another glance at entrepreneurs you admire.  Look deeper into their stories for how Asks have fueled their success.  As a tool, Asking is amazingly versatile and can be applied in myriad ways.  

2.      Excess Empathy

No one likes to be put on the spot.  To be cold called, feel unprepared, or blindsided.  Everyone has had that experience at some point; feeling time stand still while you search for an appropriate answer to a tough questions. Some people hesitate to make Asks because they identify strongly with that uncomfortable feeling and don’t want to put others in that situation. 

Tactics for Overcoming

If you tend to exhibit a high degree of empathy, go ahead and put yourself in the shoes of the person you’ll be asking, but do so from a positive perspective. Imagine them wanting to help, wanting to build a relationship with you, wanting to connect with your idea and move it forward.  Phrase your Ask in a way that invites them to collaborate with you.  Don’t make demands or leave them feeling as if it is easier to disengage than to form a partnership with you.  

3.      Fear of Rejection

This is the most common explicit fear.  “What if the person I ask says No to my request?”  In that case, you won’t get what you want.  Which would happen anyway if you didn’t ask.  Either way, the outcome is identical.  But by putting your Ask out there, you risk a loss of pride.  Fear of personal rejection can be even stronger than the fear of not getting your request.

Tactics for Overcoming

Separate yourself from the Ask.  A rejection of the request is not a rejection of you personally.  It might not even be a rejection of your idea. 

Why, then, is the person saying No?  For whatever reason they don’t feel that they can commit resources towards your request. 

Studies have shown that most people want to respond to requests in a positive way.  Take comfort in knowing that as awkward as you felt hearing a No, it’s likely the other party felt just as awkward saying No. Successful salespeople and entrepreneurs alike know you will often hear many No’s before you hear a Yes. 

 4.      Fear of Acceptance

You’ve asked.  They’ve said, “Yes”.  Now what?  You have to deliver.  This is when things become real.  Now you’re on the hook to make things happen.  This can also keep people from Asking.

Tactics for Overcoming

Start with asking yourself “Do I really want to do this?”  and “Why?”. Understanding your motivations for entering into this new venture can help you overcome the Fear of Yes.  Keep it front of mind when the panic of delivery creeps in or you feel a crisis of confidence and go back to why this new venture matters to you. 

Also, now is a good time to lean on your co-founder.  Leverage this relationship to ease doubts and improve your ability to follow through on new commitments. 

5.      Fear of Maybe

Sometimes, hearing a “maybe” can be even worse than a “yes” or “no”.  It leaves things in an ambiguous state.  It elicits more questions than when you began and throws the Asker back into wondering what the resolution will be.  Avoiding this uncertainty is enough to keep some from making an Ask in the first place.

Tactics for Overcoming

Try asking in a more open way.  Instead of using “closed” Asks, drive towards a commitment by asking “What would it take to...” or “How could we…”.  These lead to more conversational opportunities and give the person being asked more room to discuss options and possibilities.  As the asker, you get more insights into how they make decisions, their priorities, and considerations.  Even if the discussion results in a “maybe”, you will have more information at your disposal for future interactions. 

Moving Forward with Asking

You can’t be a successful entrepreneur without the Ask.  It’s a necessary component of bringing innovations out of your head and into the world.  If you identify with any of these obstacles to asking, try the tips suggested.  And then Ask away.  Whatever the answer – you can’t lose. 

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

Empowering Graduates to Create their Futures

As graduation season comes to a close, numerous websites offer their take on the best commencement speeches of 2016. Whether delivered with nostalgia, comedy, or regret, they offer graduates inspiration for tackling their next steps as they leave scripted curriculum paths for a world perceived by some as full of opportunity and others as riddled with chaos.

I’ve been thinking about some of my graduates, those who I’ve taught Effectuation to, and their stories. When people reflect on Effectuation and how it’s impacted their lives, I often hear them refer to it as “empowering”. I think the Pilot in the Plane principle has a lot to do with this.

Pilot in the Plane Principle

This is the mindset principle. When teaching Effectuation, some teach this principle at the end as the unifying principle. I prefer to start with it.

I find this principle is foundational. It is the belief that the future does not have to be known and predicted. Rather it can be controlled.

Pilot in the Plane Principle says that what you do matters. That success in innovation is not predetermined. It is not limited to those with an MBA. Or a research team. Or a big product development budget. Or who are located in New York City or Silicon Valley or London or Tokyo. While none of those attributes necessarily inhibit entrepreneurial success, they are not a requirement for it either.

Effectuation is a great equalizer. It recognizes that it’s not a single ingredient, but a combination of things, the process of bringing those things together, and the mindset to believe that you can make an impact, that creates new markets.

Effectual Mindset in Action

I am reminded of a young woman who received some Effectuation coaching recently. She didn’t have a particularly nurturing upbringing. During high school her grades were fairly middle of the pack. She didn’t cause trouble and didn’t attract praise. She enjoyed art and wood shop, things that she could make with her own hands. But she pretty much did as she was told, putting up with “the system” until she graduated.

Not particularly academic, she didn’t pursue college. Instead, she opted to go into contracting. Her focus was masonry and tiling. After working for a few years, she began to be recognized for her handiwork. Eventually, the thought of working for herself began to gnaw at her. Not knowing how to go about setting up her own business, she enrolled in a business class at the local community college.

In class, she was asked to speak about the greatest obstacle preventing her from going off on her own. She answered, “I’m a woman. And most people don’t think of asking a woman to do this kind of work”.

Her “market research” was showing that there wasn’t an opportunity for someone like her in this line of work. She could either change who she is, or what she does.

Fortunately, her teacher was instructing her in the effectual method. He challenged her not to accept the future as determined, but to change her mindset to one of “how can I turn this potential obstacle into a benefit?”

The result? She changed her thinking. Instead of focusing on what she couldn’t do, she thought about how she might be able to impact her career outcomes. She reached out to other women she knew in the industry with different skill sets but similar complaints. They discussed possible collaboration opportunities and decided to create a “by women / for women” contracting agency. They began to understand that many women are responsible for overseeing the maintenance work done by contractors during the day. These women might prefer having a female contractor working in the house while they are home alone instead of a male. Also, they began to look at ways they could better communicate with and educate women on issues in their industry.

When asked how she felt after applying Effectuation to her business, she replied, “I now have a big strength. I can do this because what I once perceived as negative societal factors I now see may give me an edge and put me on top of many established businesses”. She is confident and enthusiastic about creating her future. Now, she wrestles with having more ideas and possibilities for growing her business than time to achieve them all.

So to those who are embarking on something new, something unscripted, something unknown, I encourage you to embrace Effectuation. It won’t give you the power to predict the future, but it will give you the confidence and optimism to face it and the tools to create the future as only you can imagine.

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

Where Design Thinking Falls Short

Who do you call when you’re in need of innovation help? For many companies, the answer is a design thinking expert.

Design thinking first emerged in the 1990s and has grown in popularity. It’s a problem solving approach that gained momentum at Stanford. Now firmly embedded in Silicon Valley, it has had a worldwide impact. The systematic approach appeals to many corporate managers.

But businesses make a mistake when they rely solely on this approach to innovation. In today’s business environment, there are two primary ways in which design thinking falls short.

1. Design thinking is idea focused.

Design thinking starts with a goal in mind. It encourages people to identify problems and then seek the solutions to them. The solutions are often creative and result in an unexpected outcome.

The problem with this is that great ideas don’t always make it to market. In the context of a business, market acceptance is key. And while the solution developed in the design thinking framework might be fantastic, if it’s too expensive to manufacture or lacking in customer acceptance, etc., it might remain just that – a great idea.

2. Design thinking is feedback focused.

Design thinking encourages people to solicit feedback from stakeholders. This is done through both ethnographic observation as well as direct conversations. As more data and opinions are collected, the design thinking team incorporates the feedback into the product / service build. However, despite all of the conversations, the most important one is often missing –that of asking someone to commit to purchasing the new product.

Effectuation addresses these shortcomings in the following ways:

1. Effectuation is assets focused.

Effectuation starts with what you have on hand. Tangible assets, intangibles, excess, slack, waste, anything that is accessible is fair game. This shifts the emphasis away from an acquisitive strategy to one of optimizing existing resources. In today’s budget constrained environment, it’s a much more effective approach for organizations. Rather than focus on building from scratch or buying from others, it begins with leveraging what is already available and building out from there.

2. Effectuation is commitment focused.

Effectuation is based on commitments from participants. Decisions to invest, bring products to market, change course, etc. are based on actual commitments from stakeholders. These commitments can take many forms. They can include letters of intent, prepaid purchase agreements, partner contracts, among others. The primary objective is to attain stakeholder agreement to contribute resources to the venture to ensure its success.

Many of the companies we work with begin their discussions with us by saying “we did lots of customer research where they told us they liked this idea, but when we brought it to market it didn’t sell”. This is because they only solicited feedback. We prevent this by showing them how to use a commitment driven approach when interacting with customers and other stakeholders.

Even innovation has undergone innovations since the 1990s, when design thinking emerged. Add effectuation to your innovation skill set. Whether as a complement to design thinking or as a stand-alone innovation tool, effectuation works.   

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

Take the Sting out of Failing

Failures can be funny. The Pontiac Aztek. New Coke. Microsoft Zune. These have all been the butt of jokes. But the companies responsible for them weren’t laughing with the rest of us.

There’s been a lot written about the need to accept failure as part of developing a culture of innovation. Companies are often criticized for encouraging managers to take risks and experiment with new ideas but abandoning them if the new growth areas fail to take hold. The future success of managers who take on innovation assignments is often tied to the idea they pursue rather than to the process they execute. So if the idea doesn’t take off fast enough, or at all, the manager sees their professional support and future opportunities dissolve.

Why is failure so toxic in large organizations? Because innovation is approached from a causal standpoint rather than an effectual one. Effectuation limits the amount of resources lost in a failure. This takes the sting out of failing.

The causal approach is based on predicting what the future holds and lining up resources to be the first to capitalize on the opportunity when the forecast comes true.

The effectual approach eschews forecasting for control. Managers create opportunities rather than find them.

A critical component of the effectual approach is Affordable Loss. Before setting out to innovate, the parties involved determine what they’re willing to invest with no expectation of return.

The initial assumption is that the innovation will be a failure. So the company invests the minimal amount required to validate that assumption. If, however, that assumption proves to be false, and the idea does in fact gain market traction, the company has the ability at that point to put more investment into the concept. That level of corporate commitment then increases as the idea gains greater market validation.

Innovation and failure go hand in hand. The method of business forecasting most companies currently use for innovation leads them to overinvest in ideas that seem great in the boardroom but often fail to live up to expectations in the market.

Effectuation takes the opposite approach. It uses small bets to bring big results. The organization gains more comfort with innovating because the financial risk is reduced, managers are more confident taking on innovative roles because the downside is limited, and the culture of innovation thrives through effectual experimentation.

This seems like something worth celebrating.

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

Insights Ignited Featured in the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) Journal

In 2015, Sara Whiffen, Principal, Insights Ignited, and Christine Pigsley, Adjunct Professor of Applied Organizational Studies at Minnesota State University - Mankato,  reflected on the similarities and differences of implementing the entrepreneurial method with entrepreneurs at the corporate levels and at community colleges.  Here is what they had to say.