Can we still be friends?
Entrepreneurs need to kiss a load of toads before they find their prince of an idea.
Breaking up is hard to do, especially when it’s with a part of yourself.
Starting out as an entrepreneur, it’s common to fall head-over-heels in love with your first business idea, that seemingly brilliant spark of inspiration that could change the world – or at least your career path.
But to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to keep cool. Check yourself. That’s because the first idea is rarely the best idea. I speak from experience. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur since age 6, when I created colourful hair extensions from frayed yarn and silver barrettes for me and my friends after our parents put the kibosh on permanently dying our ’dos in emulation of the pop starlets we adored. Since then I’ve started a ton of ventures, some that succeeded, some that failed epically. But I don't take any of it personally.
While my first idea was pretty good (I sold 50 units at a buck a pop, which was huge money back in elementary school), many subsequent ones have sucked, and that’s because I made a mistake common to many budding entrepreneurs: I let my excitement for my idea get bigger than my excitement to solve someone's problem. While you need to be passionate about your venture, you need to be able to identify when to move on, quickly vetting the weak ones to make room for the great ones. It’s kind of like Tinder: swipe, and swipe quickly, through the meh masses while remaining alert to a legit prospect.
So, when inspiration strikes, give it a warm embrace, but if the fit isn't right then let it down gently. “It’s not you, it’s me,” you’ll say, but stay on friendly terms with that idea, because with some luck and work, it will lead you to a truly great idea, a kind of iterative rebound situation. Think of it as playing the field of your creativity, something I’ll come back to in a future post with lots of tips on how to hone your creative thinking.
Neurologist David Eagleman says our brains favour the obvious, taking the path of least resistance to solutions, so we must work around this tendency.
“The key to innovation is to distrust the first answer and to send it back,” he tells Business Insider. “Send the answer back so you’re getting something else out of that rich network that’s already in there.”
Instead of embracing your first idea, do what Eagleman does with team, challenging them to bring 10 solutions to a given problem, rather than just the first and most obvious one.
Eagleman’s approach gets at a key distinction in early-stage business conception: great business ideas are solutions. They come from the ability to see the grit in the oyster, not the obvious, eventual pearl.
Less infatuation, more irritation – got it? So, what bugs you? And, more importantly, what is unique about how you propose to fix that problem? And who else has this problem?
For my first venture, I had a problem: my mom wouldn’t let me dye my hair to get the look I was after; I had a solution: my crafty clip-on “hair” extensions; and I had a gaggle of other gals in the same situation who were willing to pay fair market – er, playground – price for my solution.
Did it change the world? Maybe not. But it changed my life and taught me a crucial early lesson: Your idea can’t matter to just you. Yep, that’s right, you’re going to have to share this beautiful idea, so don’t get too attached.
If that sounds harsh, consider the wise words of Ash Maurya, creator of the Lean Canvas, who laments “Innovator’s Bias” that “causes us to fall in love with our solution and makes ‘bringing our baby to life’ our sole mission,” he writes on his website.
“Life’s too short to build something nobody wants,” Maurya says.
The good news is that, when it comes to entrepreneurship, failing isn’t seen as, well, failing. Sometimes it is necessary. In Silicon Valley, innovation’s Holy Land, “Fail fast and fail often” is practically a commandment, something I’ll explore more deeply in a future post.
Your first failure is likely to be your first idea. Don’t let that get you down. The true failure would be if you stopped there. Because that is a failure of your imagination, a failure of the perseverance you need to succeed.
So, go ahead, break your heart. And then comb over the pieces. This may be bad advice for your love life, but smart strategy for emerging entrepreneurs.