How to Think Like an Entrepreneur

Founded by renowned philosopher Alain de Botton, The School of Life is dedicated to improving emotional intelligence through culture and, as part of Innovation Week, OMD UK was lucky enough to hear from their Life Coach Fiona Buckland about how to think like an entrepreneur.

This session wasn’t about being an entrepreneur (don’t worry Dan, none of us are giving up our day jobs to champion space travel for the masses any time soon!), but instead offered a flavour of the process of entrepreneurial thinking, skills and techniques to help us function in our lives and day jobs. All in one hour!

Fiona started by busting some common myths surrounding entrepreneurism. The idea that “entrepreneurs are born and not made” is rubbish – instead she encouraged us to take a ‘growth mindset’ to keep learning and developing. While she agreed with the popular belief that “entrepreneurs are risk-takers,” she explained that they take calculated risks rather than betting their mortgage on half-baked business ideas that don’t fulfil a consumer need. Next up was the misconception that you become an entrepreneur to get rich quick. Fiona explained that this isn’t what being an entrepreneur is about. External factors such as money and targets aren’t great motivators, but value, purpose and passion – things that are inside you – are. We were assured that “someone else has already done it” needn’t be a barrier and that we should forget about originality as it will only stop great ideas – just look at Facebook.

According to Israel Kirzner, “an entrepreneur is someone who notices, by being alert, hitherto unperceived opportunities for gain.” Historically, capitalism hasn’t distinguished between desire and need, but instead offered people what they want.  This is changing now as advertisers focus more on the higher levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, paying particular attention to those associated with ‘Esteem’ such as self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and respect of and by others. An entrepreneurial mindset and taking an interest in your own everyday frustrations can present opportunities, so Fiona ran an introspective exercise amongst the audience where, in teams, we were encouraged to become anthropologists of our own lives and consider what everyday frustrations reflect these higher needs and how we could improve them with a business or product. Starting with the higher need rather than the product was a really different and fun way to approach brainstorming, and based on the ideas shared in the session we may find that waking up on time, choosing a restaurant or getting your friends to pay you back promptly when planning a group holiday could soon be problems of the past.

The final part of the session resonated most with me and related to how to make ideas happen, with an emphasis on using failure in a positive way to learn. Fiona explained that R&D departments can sometimes be guilty of spending so long working on a product that by the time it’s released the market has moved on – or may indeed use it in a different way than had been anticipated. “People think with their hands,” so rather than lengthy storyboarding process it’s better to release a Minimum Value Prototype (MVP) and test your product in the market. Just enough is good enough and making your idea happen isn’t the time to perfect it, instead the timeline should be 1) Try it 2) Measure it 3) Learn from it 4) Try it.

Fiona finished by asking us what ideas we’d had that we could put into action tomorrow. Fear of failure, getting stuck and editing out our creativity ties us down and stops us coming up with great ideas. So the next time I find myself in that situation I’m going to try thinking like an entrepreneur.


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