by Min Basadur, Michael Goldsby and Rob Mathews, authors of “Design-Centered Entrepreneurship, Second Edition“
Customers expect more from companies today, which requires entrepreneurs to uncover people’s real problems and design elegant solutions to those problems. This approach requires integrating knowledge across many disciplines, collaborating with diverse groups of people, and managing projects to completion.
Economic security is no longer dependent on merely working hard, but in creating new value for customers, and the best way to create new value is to connect in relevant and impactful ways with customers.
After working with many students and businesses, we’ve found anyone with the right attitudes and skills for applying an effective process can create innovative products and services. An even better finding is these attitudes, skills, and processes can be learned and applied in any setting. You just have to be patient in learning how to create products and services customers will love.
Entrepreneurial activity is first and foremost about creative problem-solving. No matter how great your technology or idea, if it doesn’t solve an important problem for enough people, you have little chance for success.
Taking a deep dive into fact finding will move entrepreneurs from assumptions about the markets, customers, and competitors to informed decisions and strategic actions.
Before developing an innovation idea to bring to market, pursue these seven strategies for fact finding:
1. Search for divergently relevant facts.
A metaphor for this critical strategy is the Saturn rocket that launched Apollo missions to the moon during the 1960s. Shortly after the rocket left the ground, its first stage dropped off. The second stage took over to lift the rocket higher before falling off in turn. The third stage then propelled the landing craft on a course to its final destination. Becoming aware of a new opportunity or problem is like the first rocket stage. It’s enough to get the entrepreneur started, but it’s only the beginning. The problem as they first perceive it may not represent the problem as it’s later perceived. Searching for facts about the new opportunity or problem is the second rocket stage, which then leads to further relevant facts in the third stage. By being open to as many potentially relevant facts as possible, entrepreneurs will improve, expand, and enrich their final perception of the opportunity.
2. Investigate several viewpoints.
Each of us sees “the facts” in a situation through our own biases, filters, and acquired knowledge. Collaborative problem-solving brings together a variety of viewpoints, which uncovers additional facts and broadens the view of a problem. Additionally, considering the potential customer’s point of view by learning how they spend their time, what they value, their product preferences and more will better inform decisions.
3. Beware of unconscious assumptions.
The mindset used when gathering facts is critical. Approaching problems with an openness to new information will challenge preconceived perspective on it. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki observed, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” Entrepreneurs should begin the search for facts as novices. By doing so, they can uncover the language, issues, critical success factors, and constraints inherent in a problem.
4. Avoid a negative attitude toward “problems.”
If you automatically consider a problem a negative thing, then not only does your attitude lower your motivation to tackle it, but it also confines your fact finding. You start looking for only negative facts. Without a complete picture of the facts — negative and positive — your subsequent problem definition will be off the mark.
5. Share information.
Entrepreneurs often avoid asking questions or volunteering information for fear of their ideas being stolen. But guarding ideas in an overprotective way comes across like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings (“my precious!”). No one will help a person who appears greedy. Instead, ideas shared in collaborative sessions will change into entirely new ideas when new facts are gathered.
6. State what you think.
In collaborative problem-solving sessions, an important rule is that there are no bad ideas during fact finding. Offering information and ideas only to fit what you think the rest of the group wants to hear robs the session of your unique viewpoint. Many people second-guess themselves and believe that, if no one else sees the problem as they do, they must be wrong. The person who sees things differently from others is sometimes the one who sees them most clearly.
7. Look for the truth, not just ways to boost your ego.
The attitude of everyone in a fact-finding session should be that the purpose of the exercise is to uncover as many facts about a problem as possible. All ideas are welcome. Therefore, the entrepreneur must not take it personally if people offer differing perspectives that disrupt their current idea. In fact, they should welcome it. The agreed upon goal of any fact-finding session should be to uncover information that can lead to better problem definition and superior solutions later.
The agreed upon goal of the fact-finding strategies is to uncover information that will lead to better problem definition and superior solutions in the long run. The greatest discoveries occur when someone seeks answers others aren’t willing to pursue.
Min Basadur is Professor Emeritus of Innovation at McMaster University, Canada, and founder of Basadur Applied Creativity. Michael Goldsby is Stoops Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Chief Entrepreneurship Officer at Ball State University. Rob Mathews is Executive Director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at Ball University. Their new book, “Design-Centered Entrepreneurship, Second Edition” (Routledge, 2022), provides a research-driven, step-by-step approach to creative problem-solving. Learn more at https://elprofile.com/.