Regardless of their industry, experience or product, successful entrepreneurs all share one thing in common: they excel at finding problems worth solving, and they know how to mobilize their team to effectively solve these problems and continuously add value.

While some might assume these abilities are innate in successful entrepreneurs, the truth is, successful entrepreneurs aren't born — they're made. With consistent practice, anyone can adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. Doing so will help you:

  • Identify and solve high-value problems
  • Strengthen your decision making and mitigate bias
  • Stay hyper-focused on delivering value for your customers
  • Align your team's efforts around key objectives for success

By enabling an entrepreneurial mindset within larger organizations, new ideas can be driven forward with the same speed, agility and flexibility as a startup. Read on for our top three secrets on how to tackle problems with a startup mindset.

1. Adopt a Beginner's Mind

Bias is one of the biggest pitfalls for tackling problems like a startup. Unfortunately, biases tend to accumulate as individuals gain experience and organizations grow. Some of the most common biases that can hinder an entrepreneurial mindset include:

  • Assuming you already know which problems are worth solving. This bias becomes more prevalent with waterfall planning, decreasing agility and responsiveness during 'discovery.
  • Assuming you already know which solutions will be effective. This bias is driven by the same factors as above, as well as top-down thinking.
  • Sunk cost bias. This bias arises when you continue a project solely because of the invested time and resources to date.

Successful startups (especially software startups) are hyper-responsive to what is actually happening with their customers and rely heavily on objective data and customer behavior to drive their roadmap. They are constantly engaged with customers to understand their needs, barriers and behaviors, repeatedly leveraging data to test assumptions and guide development.

By employing data-driven exploration with a beginner's mind, you can mitigate bias, be decisive and constantly correct course as you learn. Continuous experimentation augments learning, decreases blind spots and cultivates curiosity. This is so important as you encounter obstacles and adversity; helping your employees approach business problems as opportunities enables them to be highly resilient, resourceful, and solution-oriented.

2. Stay Focused on Objectives

Given their resource constraints, startups must focus on continuously discovering and solving the most important problems their customers face. To do this, great startups are crystal clear on their objectives when they explore and solve problems. Each element of their roadmap is tied to a high-level objective driving the business forward. Because startups have smaller teams, it is easier to create alignment so that each member understands where they fit and how they can drive value in their roles.

Thus, to solve problems like a startup, you must ensure all of your employees are bought into and understand the high-level objectives that underpin their problem-solving efforts. Clearly outlining and communicating your objectives on a regular basis helps you embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and:

  • Prioritize which problems are worth solving
  • Foster alignment across multiple departments and teams
  • Better allocate resources to create more impactful solutions

While organizations can use different frameworks to establish and disseminate their objectives, we really like the objectives and key results framework (OKRs) created by John Doerr in his book, Measure What Matters.

At its simplest, an OKR consists of an Objective, which defines a large, aspirational goal to be achieved and up to 5 Key Results, which measure progress towards the Objective. OKRs are updated on a quarterly basis to ensure agility. Here is an example of an OKR established by the city of Syracuse, New York:

Objective: Achieve fiscal sustainabilityKR1: Reduce the general fund budget variance from 11% to 5%.KR2: Spend 95% of authorized capital project dollars by the end of the fiscal year.KR3: Spend 95% of grant dollars for grants from prior fiscal years.

Outlining these objectives is absolutely critical in the problem-solving process. The truth is, there are always hundreds of problems to solve; learning how to evaluate these problems with respect to your objectives can help you focus your energy on tackling the right problems that will drive meaningful results.

3. Think like a product manager

At software companies, it is often said that a product manager is the "CEO" of the product. According to ProductManagerHQ, a product manager synthesizes business strategy, product design and customer needs in order to develop a product that is relevant, feasible and valuable.

In other words, product managers combine everything from tips one and two in this article to enhance the product they are responsible for. Larger organizations will typically have multiple product managers responsible for different elements of the overall product.

While product managers are common in the software space, it is rare to find an equivalent at organizations in other industries. However, thinking like a product manager is critical to developing an entrepreneurial mindset in any industry or role. Whether you're working in customer support, leading a team of creatives or balancing the books in the back office, the "product" you offer can always be improved to better serve customers.

Organizations with clear objectives (as discussed in tip number two) can leverage this alignment to empower their employees to be the CEO of their "product" and continuously drive value for the organization as it relates to their specific outcomes and roles.

Achieving agility at scale

As organizations grow, it can be easy to fall victim to the assumptions and ambiguity that stifle an entrepreneurial mindset. By reinvigorating your work with curiosity, purpose and objective investigation, individuals can tackle high-value problems with agility and design effective solutions that satisfy customers and business goals.

Want to learn more about how to find and solve business problems? Download our free guide, Enabling Discovery: How to Find Business Problems Worth Solving.

Topic(s): Problem Solving

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