Aspiring entrepreneurs who rely only on traditional learning vehicles (teachers, classrooms, and risk-free practice) are doomed to failure in anticipating change today. Either they are never really ready to commit, study an opportunity until it has passed, or fail with tools and techniques from a bygone business era. The Internet and the current information wave have changed everything.
Being a successful entrepreneur these days requires a current insight to a myriad of changes, including many that haven’t yet been integrated into the traditional academic learning vehicles of textbooks and professors. The Internet is the problem, by facilitating constant change, and it’s the solution, by providing an absolutely current view of customers, trends, and best practices.
The challenge is to find the time and initiative to keep up with the information wave, and be able to curate the data into knowledge that must be learned, unlearned, or relearned. It requires an attitude of self-education, versus an assumption that someone else will provide the education. For entrepreneurs, change is the norm, so you have to relish it before you can make it happen.
This required ability is aided by some supportive personal attributes, such as confidence, initiative, problem-solving, and determination, but the basic learning principles must include the following:
- Satisfaction will come from learning something new every day. This goes hand-in-hand with every entrepreneur’s desire to do things better and make a real impact on the world. This is a key part of enjoying the journey as well as the destination. It doesn’t imply any sense of superiority or weakness, but often provides motivation beyond money.
- Success requires challenging assumptions and status quo. With this principle, real entrepreneurs start with a conviction that new learning will reveal flaws in existing models, leading to new opportunities. The Internet is the source of data for alternative views, and social media allows direct customer interactions to test these views.
- Learning means understanding, far beyond memorization. Great entrepreneurs strive to understand the depth of a customer need, rather than just the ability to recite a longer list of features. Technologies are not solutions, but understanding a technology, in the context of a customer need, will result in more competitive and long-lasting solutions.
- The act of communicating and writing enhances learning. The process of documenting what you think you know in a business plan—for the team and for investors—solidifies your own understanding of your new business. With this learning, you are able to effectively share and market your solution to customers and business partners.
- Building a new business is not rocket science. Growing a business means understanding the needs and thoughts of regular people and simple financial transactions, not some complex technology that you might assume you can never learn. With the Internet, you can see all you need explained in a dozen ways in text, videos, pictures, and podcasts.
- Learning is nothing more than looking outside the box. Extending your knowledge is like dealing with competitors—if you aren’t extending your comfort zone, you are losing ground. With the Internet, you can quickly test your new business concepts, with crowd funding and social media, and get quick feedback from around the world at a low cost.
- Relationships are a test of your learning readiness. Building a new business today is all about building relationships with your customers and your team. As an entrepreneur with a new startup, you are the brand, and customers today expect a relationship. In addition, you always need relationships with advisors, investors, influencers, and peers.
- Proactively ask for help and anticipate the need to pivot. With the Internet, you can ask for help from normally inaccessible experts, with minimal personal exposure and cost. It’s easy to see how often others have made changes, so your own learning and associated pivots should never be an embarrassment. Avoid the arrogance trap.
No one is too old to learn new things as an entrepreneur, whether they are out of school at twenty, or have just finished their first career at sixty. If you follow the principles outlined here, and take advantage of the pervasiveness of the Internet, you too can be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem. A failed startup is the harshest learning lesson of all, and we need to change this approach.
Image credit: CC by Brad Montgomery