By Jan Ryan
Today, entrepreneurship is about more than launching a new company. It’s a way of thinking and acting that can change your world and the world of others.
We live in a time where it’s too risky to play it safe. There is a good reason behind the growing demand for innovation and creativity today. Whether you’re a musician, a technologist, a designer or an engineer, unprecedented market shifts are impacting all sectors. Both art and business are being disrupted by digital creation and distribution. At the same time, competitive pressures are growing and profit margins are shrinking. It’s become harder for an individual, product or service to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Companies, big and small, view innovation not just as a means for growth, but as a tenet for survival.
You say, well, this is good news for creatives, right? After all, creativity is the new currency! Yes, but there’s a catch. Creatives who want to thrive in this new economy need a new mindset. It’s not just about idea creation. It’s about knowing when and how to take action sooner. It’s about identifying real opportunities and discovering value for an audience, or a fan, or stakeholder in a civic-minded venture. It’s about the grit and passion to move past moments of adversity as you grow.How do you know if you have this mindset? Consider three important attributes of a successful entrepreneur:
1) You see opportunities where others see obstacles.
One of the key skills of a successful entrepreneur is the ability to look past obstacles and reframe/rethink a problem area. What opportunities are lurking inside this problem? What value can you create in this gap for your audience or customer? When others throw in the towel and find a situation impossible, the entrepreneur has already started to unpack the complexity of the problem into manageable parts. With practice and over time, neural pathways have trained their minds to be more alert to the gaps, to better anticipate customers’ needs, to not just feel their pain and/or desire, but to ask why.
2) You take action as soon as possible, before all the facts are known.
Entrepreneurs have a special relationship with action. They learn by doing. Using resources that are readily available, they “invent as they go,” as Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group and star of TV’s Shark is fond of saying. They know that action supersedes everything.
The uncertainty of entrepreneurial environments requires this different approach and may feel unnatural or uncomfortable to many at first. In a traditional setting, one is usually presented with what the answer is, then asked to try and find the right ways to get there. It’s the opposite for entrepreneurs—they take action before all the facts are known to see what happens, and then they adjust (instead of the other way around.) It’s been called pivoting or continuous ideation. I call it “discovering the way forward.” The fear of failure falls away because of the valuable insights that bubble up from these do-overs, with each iteration moving them closer to their dream.
3) You’re a great collaborator, even as you cast the vision.
Successful entrepreneurs know it’s not just about the inspiration, it’s the implementation that really matters. That means they can’t do it alone—the myth of a solo genius or a lone inventor is hugely overblown, especially in this new economy. Most innovations are not implemented all at once, but rather through a process of trial and error, false starts, mistakes and reflection. Successful entrepreneurs know they’re in a collaborative problem-solving endeavor, and the best results will come from a diverse set of people with different experience and expertise. Even as they sell the vision, they become master collaborators, attracting different types of people to the cause.
The French writer Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes.” This new economy is opening new possibilities for those of us with eyes to see. Will you be one of them? The College of Fine Arts is committed to unleashing this “entrepreneurial mindset” in our students to be successful in this entrepreneurial age, whether or not the goal is to launch a business or take better control of your career. Make sure you’re developing new ways of thinking to put your passion into practice.
Jan Ryan is the Executive Director of Entrepreneurship and a Professor of Practice in Creative Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin.
Illustration by Jason Wilkins, Assistant Professor of Practice in the Department of Design in the School of Design and Creative Technologies.