May 27, 2015
Entrepreneurial success depends on actions, attitudes and practice, Stanford expert says
Stanford Professor Tina Seelig says that entrepreneurship can be taught, learned and practiced through a rigorous approach that she calls the Invention Cycle.
By Clifton B. Parker
Stanford Professor Tina Seelig explores the concept of the Invention Cycle in her teaching and in her book, "Insight Out." (Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)
With the right set of tools and techniques, people can gain the necessary skills to achieve entrepreneurial success, says a Stanford innovation expert.
"Immersion and curiosity reveal insights and opportunities that are hidden in plain view," said Tina Seelig, executive director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and a professor of the practice in Stanford's Department of Management Science and Engineering. She teaches at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) and has a doctorate in neuroscience from the Stanford School of Medicine.
During the past academic year, Seelig introduced in her courses the concept of the Invention Cycle, which aims, she says, to explain the nature of the innovation process. The Stanford News Service interviewed Seelig, who recently published a new book, Insight Out (HarperCollins, 2015), on this topic:
Can you teach people to be more creative and entrepreneurial?
My colleagues and I are asked this question all the time. It arises from the fact that we haven't had a clear framework for the entire entrepreneurial process, from inspiration to implementation. This is in sharp contrast to other fields, such as math, biology, physics and music, which have defined terms and relationships that provide a structured approach for learning and applying those skills.
My goal in Insight Out is to bring together what we know about creativity with what we know about entrepreneurship so that we can reproducibly teach, learn and practice these skills in a rigorous manner.
What is the Invention Cycle?
The Invention Cycle is a new model that defines the relationships between imagination, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. The framework also captures the attitudes and actions that are necessary at each step through the invention process. It is a virtuous cycle in that entrepreneurs manifest their ideas by inspiring others' imagination, which starts the cycle again.
The Invention Cycle includes definitions for imagination, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Imagination is envisioning things that do not exist; creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge; innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions, and entrepreneurship is applying innovation to bring unique ideas to fruition.
How do you learn the skills needed to go from inspiration to implementation?
Like all skills, they require practice. Honing the attitudes of the Invention Cycle leads to effectiveness, and mastering the actions results in inventiveness. Each set of traits is necessary but not sufficient – only when they are coupled together are you effective at bringing new ideas to fruition.
The attitudes for effectiveness include being engaged, motivated, focused and persistent. The actions that influence inventiveness include envisioning, experimenting, reframing and inspiration.
How does this apply within organizations?
In startup ventures, the founders need to have all the skills of the Invention Cycle in order to conceive of ideas and then manifest them in the world. As the firm grows, not every team member needs to have every skill in the cycle. However, collectively the team needs to cover every base. Without imaginers, there won't be compelling opportunities to address. Without creators, routine problems won't get solved. Without innovators, there won't be fresh ideas. And without entrepreneurs, innovations will sit on the shelf.
How important is it to inspire others to embrace your entrepreneurial dreams?
All significant accomplishments are like barn raisings – you can't do them alone. They require a collection of individuals who are dedicated to the success of the project. Therefore, if you want to accomplish something of merit, you need to find ways to magnify your impact by influencing others to support your efforts. This involves encouraging others to join your team, fund your work, use your products and spread the word. This is equally true for artists, musicians, chefs, technology innovators and other entrepreneurs who want to reach a broader audience. Inspiring others to act is not about getting people to do the things you want them to do, but motivating them to want to do those things.
What is the best way to get started on an entrepreneurial journey?
Active engagement is the first step to imagining what could be. It requires immersing yourself, not just observing from afar. Immersion and curiosity reveal insights and opportunities that are hidden in plain view. I often meet individuals who are desperately looking deep inside themselves to find something that will drive their passion. They miss the fact that, for most of us, our actions lead to our passions, not the other way around. Passions are not innate, but grow from our experiences. No matter where you are in your life, you can always return to this first principle. Engagement is a master key that opens up any door.
What are the biggest obstacles to bringing big ideas to life?
The biggest obstacle is always our own attitude. Every entrepreneurial undertaking is an act of creation: going from nothing to something. At the beginning there is nothing but the vision of accomplishing your goal. The stronger your drive to reach the finish line, the more tenacious you'll be and the more likely you are to reach your objective.
Over the years I have seen a pattern among those who successfully navigate the path from innovation to entrepreneurship. They know how to take steps that are large enough to be challenging, but small enough that they lead manageably toward the objectives. Those who don't pace themselves properly are doomed to one of two fates: They take tiny steps that are low risk, but that don't take them very far; or they take huge steps that are beyond their ability, and they inevitably stumble. The key is to find the step size that is right for you.
In addition, you need to be willing to fight for your ideas, even if others think they are crazy. Resistance to your ideas is a gift, in that it gives you a chance to test the strength of your own convictions.
For more Stanford experts on business and other topics, visit Stanford Experts.