After interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs, ELI’s Founder, Gary Schoeniger, has found one commonly held assumption that drives their behavior. They assume that by solving problems for others, they can empower themselves.
Solving others’ problems is the deceptively simple logic from which all other entrepreneurial attitudes, behaviors, and skills arise. It is also the underlying logic that enables them to recognize opportunities that others overlook.
From this perspective, entrepreneurs learn to see problems as opportunities. They learn to approach every situation, frustration, or unmet need they encounter as a potential opportunity. Learning to see the world empathically, their attention shifts to the community around them to understand others’ needs. They are observant, asking themselves why are we doing it this way, what is missing, and what can be improved?
They learn to think like detectives, working to understand the functional, social, and emotional aspects of human needs. While the rest of us hunker down trying to get through the day, entrepreneurs look for problems to solve. While this may seem simple (and it is!), it is a departure from how most of us were taught to think.
Learning to See Opportunities Hiding in Plain Sight
In his book Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, cognitive psychologist Gary Klein describes the challenge many organizations face – the more they rely on rules, the less likely people are to have insights. “In many cases, organizations are preventing insights by imposing too many controls and procedures to reduce or eliminate errors. Organizations value predictability and abhor mistakes. That’s why they impose management controls that stifle insights. When we put too much energy into eliminating mistakes, we’re less likely to gain insights.”
Simply put, our minds focus on the things we deem critical while blocking out the rest; we see what we are trained to see. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as selective attention or in-attentional blindness. You can see a great example demonstrated in this brief video.
By focusing on avoiding errors and following the rules, we overlook the opportunities within any set of circumstances. By focusing only on our own needs, we blind ourselves to opportunities that are often hiding in plain sight.
Transforming Any Circumstances into Success
When we’ve shifted our perspective to see a vast world of opportunities, the next step is to tap into our potential. It doesn’t require any unique abilities or exceptional talent—nor power or privilege. It does, however, require us to focus our energy on the things we can control.
Many of us unwittingly focus our time and energy on things over which we have little or no control. We get stuck on the problem rather than overcoming it, and we unconsciously accept our circumstances as something we cannot change. This tempts us to complain and blame others for issues rather than engaging our innate creativity and searching for solutions.
Solutions are the true currency in an entrepreneurial mindset. We acquire any mindset—the underlying beliefs, implicit assumptions, and thought processes that influence our behavior—slowly over time through socialization and life experiences. And because a mindset is acquired, drawing from the past to navigate the future, it’s something that we can change. We can all cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset.
Solving problems for other people is the “secret” that enables entrepreneurs to transform any set of circumstances into success. The world is full of problems, and solutions are often simple, not requiring any specialized knowledge or new technology.
The self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others requires awareness: the willingness to pay attention to what other people need. This idea is the essence of an entrepreneurial mindset. If you can solve a problem for another person, find more people who have the same problem and empower yourself.