HOW DO ENTREPRENEURS THINK AND DEVELOP?
So how do entrepreneurs think and how do they develop their thinking? Most businessideas fail due to wrong or incomplete thinking. Human-beings, like plants, grow or fail to grow, depending on their environment. For a business to succeed the entrepreneur must grow and develop in his or her thinking by planting themselves in the right environment. Remember you are the tree on which the fruit grows; healthy tree, healthy fruit! I have never forgotten what Warren Buffet, one of the worlds leading investors once said, he doesn't invest in great companies, but in great CEO’s. This is because he understood that the key to great and profitable companies was and is the art of leadership and the skills of effective managers.
An entrepreneur must master the art of thinking; however to achieve this we mush understand that it is not a purely academic exercise, but the product the right-kind-of-environment, in the company ofexperienced mentors and great teachers. Access to these kinds of people is often hard because they are often tobusy, so this is where the Global Tribe Innovation Cafe, online or in person can be helpful.
Strategic thinking is an art-form and a mind-set as much as it is a skill, and is based on large amounts of information. Information that must be gathered, ordered, interpreted and then applied.
Strategic thinking is another framework for ordering our thinking. It is where we take our dream, vision and mission and turn them into a plan of action. The art of innovation. Planning the future in light of present realities, resources, capabilities, contexts, customers, and obstacles.
A strategic thinker is an entrepreneur of sorts. The true meaning of the word entrepreneur is broader than its use in a business context. As already pointed out, it was coined by the French economist J.B. Say, around the year 1800; “The entrepreneur,” Say wrote, “Shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield.”1 In other words, an entrepreneur creates a plan in order to use resources in new ways, maximizing productivity and effectiveness.
In business, community organizations, or our personal lives, strategic thinking has to do with taking what you have and making the most of it. It is taking our personal capital and using it more productively in order to generate a greater yield.
Strategic thinking is often associated with going to war. The formal definition of the word strategyhas strong military connotations. A common dictionary definition shows that strategy is the science of planning and directing large-scale military operations, specifically of maneuvering forces into the most advantageous position prior to actual engagement with the enemy.2 It seems most dictionary definitions use a military reference. However, strategic thinking is not restricted to military action or even to business. Strategic thinking is used in sports, government, community organizations, and increasingly in planning our family and personal lives.
BUILDING AN ENVIRONMENT FOR GROWTH
In his book Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy, Partha Bose reveals the secret of Alexander’s ability to think strategically. Love him or hate him, Alexander the Great (356-323BC) was arguably the greatest military strategist in history. “At the age of 20, he ascended to the throne of his father’s kingdom. By the age of 23, he had defeated Persia his nation’s greatest enemy. And by the time of his death, aged 33, his armies had conquered virtually the entire known world. Form the shores of the Mediterranean to the foothills of India, including the lands of modern-day Iraq and Afghanistan.”3
Alexander’s father Philip wanted his son to have a higher education than what was being provided. He wanted his son to be equipped with a mental framework that would guide him as a military leader and an empire builder. It was at this time that Aristotle was discovered and taken from relative obscurity to train Alexander and a selected group of young leaders. He was to train them to think. Aristotle had just missed out on the top job at Plato’s Leadership Academy in Athens, where he had studied and taught for over twenty years.
An amazing environment was built for him in the hilly resort of Mieza, just outside the Macedonian capital of Pella. “The school had on one side, a stunning view of the Thermaic Gulf… on the other, the wilderness. Bose describes this school: “Mieza on most days was a picture of sunny serenity, with cobbled pathways and shaded walkways where enclaves of students discussed Persian poetry or Greek plays. Botanical and zoological gardens had been built surrounding the school to cater to Aristotle’s interests in the biological sciences. He spent all of his free time categorizing plants and animals.”4He would then apply his discovers within nature to understanding the world of intellect.
ART OF STRATEGY
Aristotle taught using Socrates method of engaging his students through the use of dialogues. Bose points out, “it was common, for example to see Aristotle come around the corner, leading a group of students deep in an intellectual dialogue”. Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once wrote: “If you tell me, I will listen. If you show me I will see. But if you let me experience, I will learn.”5 These future leaders of Macedonia were taught how to solve complex problems, practical decision-making, to think strategically, to accurately gather facts, and to recognize patterns within different types of problems. Aristotle taught these young leaders the art of strategic thinking which involved a number of crucial elements:
Strategic thinkers clearly define the dream, the vision, the big goal or key objectives. For Sir Edmund Hillary it was to climb the highest mountain in the world. For Neil Armstrong it was to walk on the moon. For Alexander it was to conquer the world, something that in modern thinking is unthinkable, and even detestable. In chess the aim is to out think your opponent by being a number of steps ahead, maneuvering them into check mate. In business the goal is to create something of value in order to make money. In many communities around the globe the big goal is to survive another day. The dream of still others is to help them survive. Peter Drucker the great business philosopher says, “Efficiency is doing the thing right, but effectiveness is doing the right thing.”
A strategic thinker focuses on doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.
Aristotle taught his students how to frame a question in order to gather facts and discover underlying patterns or trends. One of Alexander’s key skills as a strategic thinker was his ability to seek facts and observe patterns within the information he received in battle. Bose reveals that he would “seek facts about a certain region from a diverse set of sources – from the meteorologist, agriculturalist, botanist, zoologist, civil engineer, hydrologist, historian… and then synthesize the facts so as to arrive at a point of view.”6
The central skill of leadership is the ability to gain an accurate picture of where you are now, and where you need to go. “Strategic thinking is the bridge that links where you are to where you want to be.”7 Max De Pree in his book Leadership is an Art, says, “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”8 Strategic thinking means facing the hard facts in order to define reality and thus gain a clear picture. In the development of any strategic plan we must ask numerous questions. Questions such as: What resources do I have? What skills do I possess? What systems can I create? Where can I find the information or facts that I need? When do I wish to complete this project? What are the obstacles?
One of the templates I often use in the strategic planning process is what’s called the SWOT analysis. This represents standard questions starting with each letter of the word SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Treats). In every project I initiate, I use this process and others to help define reality.
Aristotle helped his students identify problems correctly and to search for underlying issues. He taught “that the world they would interact with, as rulers, governors and generals, was a complex world of people, feelings, perspectives, assumptions and biases. He had them build scenarios and work collaboratively with one another in shaping the future of their country.”9
He created real to life situations to test their problem solving skills and help them to think on their feet. Scenario building was a vital part of Aristotle’s transformative learning experience. The young students spent hours practicing what they had learned in numerous problem solving engagements that Aristotle had designed. They had to think through the implications of their actions three or four steps ahead and pin point their consequences. It is said there is no substitute for experience. True, but remember, all of those who are now experienced started out at precisely the same place of inexperience.
In order to develop and sharpen Alexander’s responses, Bose reveals that Aristotle, the facts guy, “would throw a continuous stream of facts and situations at him to see how he framed, adapted and solved a problem based on disparate, often conflicting sets of facts. He was taught to think about connections between facts, about soft points in the logic of an argument, and about what more information was needed.”10
Aristotle exposed his students to a wide range of disciplines. Although he specialized in certain fields, he designed an academic program that would keep them from forming a narrow view of the world. Alexander’s introduction to multiple disciplines lead him to write about 150 books on subjects as diverse as meteorology, metaphysics, physics and politics. Strategic thinkers are passionate about learning. In so doing create a larger data base from which to draw, when considering a situation, or making decisions concerning the future.
Aristotle created an educational environment of open and honest feedback. The key to gaining honest feedback from people is to create an atmosphere where people are unafraid to be open, to ask questions or put forward their point of view. Alexander and the other students understood that everyone and everything was open to criticism. Aristotle encouraged this because at Plato’s Academy in Athens he had felt stifled, not feeling he could speak his mind. People will shut down or disengage if they feel their ideas and opinions are not, at the very least, respected. A part of Alexander’s success was the result of cultivating a culture of ruthless honesty, where challenges to authority and ideas were accepted.
Alexander was taught to take all the time that he needed to plan before going to battle. Qualities cultivated by Aristotle such as analytical reasoning, self-criticism and intellectual honesty, built a culture of risk taking based on a platform of strategic thinking. Partha Bose reveals, “After capturing Elatea they sat tight for almost a year planning, preparing, and testing their next set of moves, but not attacking.” Michael Porter a professor at Harvard Business School once wrote, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”11 Strategic planning is where you pull all of the intelligence, facts, ideas, advice and scenario building, into a plan of action. This is where key objectives, long term and short term goals, time frames, lines of communication, personnel and budgets are established. The intention in this chapter was not to outline a system for strategic planning, there are numerous available on the internet, but to discuss the essential nature of thinking strategically.
In this case Alexanders father planted him and his associates in an positive environment for growth. This is why it is a vital part of the Global Tribe strategy to help entrepreneurs go beyond being simply taught to fish, to being planted with the right mentors and or support networks. This is the reason why it is vital to find a small team of friends or mentors to support you. In the GT Enterprise system we call this environment the Innovation Cafe; a small group of advisers/friends in constant dialogue.