CEO Amy Wilkinson Reveals How to Think Like a Succesful Entrepreneur
everywhere we look the world is changing with technology with political systems even the way we interact with each other how do you not only survive but thrive in a world of change what’s the secret sauce of Silicon Valley we’re here at the epicenter people are trying to figure that out so I believe the secret is to think like an entrepreneur I had the great privilege to interview some of the most successful entrepreneurs people like Elon Musk building SpaceX and Tesla the founders of Spanx LinkedIn 23andme companies like Airbnb I’m constantly asked everyone comes up and says who’s your favorite entrepreneur and the answer might surprise you my favorite entrepreneurs are Nadine in red this is my almost 101 year old grandmother and her one two hundred and six year old boyfriend red okay so why why you know why are they my favorite entrepreneurs because they’re curious they’re constantly learning they’re constantly questioning they’re overcoming setbacks and they really believe tomorrow will be better than today yes my grandmother has some aches and pains I mean she’s a hundred she’s breaking triple digits yes she’s retired so she had a career as a nurse and yes she’s left the home where she raised her four children and yes she lost her partner her husband after 62 years but she’s not complaining and she’s not complacent you know she’s challenging the status quo and looking for something better she’s a shining example of thinking like an entrepreneur you know she could have thought she was too old to venture out she could have stayed in a retirement center watch TV stayed with the people around there had meals delivered to her room but instead she ventured out she loves music and she went to a local concert every single Saturday she went to support local musicians and that’s where she found read so she got out of her comfort zone you know here’s where the comfort zone is and here’s where the magic happens and they are not the same place so of all the entrepreneurs that I interviewed 200 of them in fact what I started learning was they got comfortable being uncomfortable they didn’t stay in their comfort zone they pushed forward that pit in your stomach they thought ok this means I’m building something important I’m gonna put something into the world that people really need now it’s not an innate ability to think like an entrepreneur people are not just born thinking like entrepreneurs they work at it and I’d like to share three of the skills that come out of my research and the important thing here is they apply to each and every one of us we can all think like an entrepreneur the first is fly the OODA loop so this stands for observe orient decide act it’s originally a fighter pilot mantra and I have a very good friend who’s a fighter pilot West Hallman he told me if you want to think like an entrepreneur you think like a fighter pilot and here’s why if you can get inside the loop the decision circle you can observe orient decide and act faster than a competitor you can win in a dogfight right a competitor is reacting to a landscape that’s already changed you took a decision you took an action there a split-second behind that’s the same in a really entrepreneurial world and we live in an entrepreneurial world an example is a fabulous one is PayPal so Max Levchin Peter Thiel and Elon Musk come together and they start PayPal we all know what that is today but they go through six different business models right six different things they try in a year and a half in eighteen months they’re moving through as quick as they can observing orienting deciding and acting they raise money on a technology where they could beam cash between Palm Pilots I don’t know how many people remember the Palm Pilot that’s gone PayPal is still around right one of the things they observed was that people on eBay we’re trying to transact and they were using this demo website you know to support the beaming product at any rate PayPal moved to create an online currency then eBay bought a competitor they had so many more resources people money still the PayPal team moved faster at one point Visa credit card company tried to sue with a PayPal startup saying now you’re in our credit card business and what they did was convinced Visa to just study the problem for 12 months okay never study the problem because while visa is studying the problem the PayPal team’s observing Oren team deciding acting in winning in the marketplace so they sell to eBay now the much more interesting thing is what happens next the original twelve to eighteen people at PayPal they go on to seed the entire next wave of the internet they are the founders of YouTube LinkedIn Yelp slide Digg Tesla Motors they certainly start SpaceX they founders fund 500 startups they’re the first money invested behind Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook they literally seed the entire next wave when you spend time with them I’ve spent time with all of these founders you say how is that possible you didn’t just do it once but you did it you fanned out and did it over and over again and what they’ll say is the first thing you think yeah that’s not it you have to observe orient decide act you have to keep moving so Jeremy Stoppelman at Yelp he said you have to look for a counterintuitive blip of data something that doesn’t make sense and follow it so Yelp was started as an email referral system and they did not think anyone would want to write a review Jeremy did not think that would be fun and then what he found out is everyone wants to review the nail salon the restaurant the dry cleaner and so they quickly moved and said okay Yelp will be a review site YouTube was started for video dating this was a video dating startup until they shot video at a local zoo they were just practicing uploading and shooting video and everyone started watching the video of an elephant okay if you’re doing a video dating site that doesn’t make sense but if you really quickly move to observe that take decisions take actions we know what YouTube is today it’s the website where you can see all things video all the cat videos you want to see in the world right there there so these are successful entrepreneurs but they have absolutely moved through different decision cycles it’s about thinking like an entrepreneur and every single one of us can do that this is an important point so if you are going to be flying an Oda loop you have to have a fierce team with you you need a wingman you need a wingwoman so there’s great research out of Northwestern and says if you want to solve a problem alone you can do that a lot of people try to solve problems alone and your success rate is about 44% if you get other like-minded people and many of us try to gravitate right towards our friends then you can solve a problem a little bit better at about 54% of the time if you bring in an outsider someone who thinks totally differently your solve rate goes up significantly and you solve approximately 75% now here’s the counterintuitive take away from this here’s the surprise it’s not because of the person who’s diverse who comes from the outside it’s because each single person raises their game when we think we’re going to be challenged by someone who disagrees with us who gets out of the comfort zone who challenges the status quo we do our homework we show up prepared we’re more focused on the problem we’re more willing to articulate a point of view so having an outsider come in actually raises our own performance it’s something really important to think about it’s uncomfortable but it makes us stand a little taller and do a little bit better all right not just flying the Ute aloof but failing wisely is important so if you think like an entrepreneur it doesn’t mean that you’re never going to fail in fact the entrepreneurs that I interviewed in this research project they are failing all the time but they’re failing wisely so what does that mean it means they’re setting a ratio right one in five things I try won’t work that’s what I’m going for or one in ten things and different people will set different failure ratios the idea is that you don’t want a zero ratio a zero ratio means a perfect record and that means you haven’t tried something new you haven’t actually pushed into the innovation curve so this is Jessica Heron she’s found her Stellan dot previously the founder of wedding channel comm and what she says is one in three that’s four ratio one in three things she tries won’t work and that’s what she’s going for at Stella and I’d she’s got a workforce of stylist it’s a woman’s direct selling company and she just tells the stylist you know give me the feedback as fast as possible love it or lose it love this product lose it out of our inventory and they will lose one third and that’s success for Jess at Google Eric Schmidt instituted a 70-20-10 ratio right 70 percent of your time on core business 20% of your time on side business-related 10% on total moonshots that 10% is most likely failure but it also may produce just spectacularly wonderful results now we’ve talked a little bit about incremental failure but what if you absolutely run into a catastrophic failure what if you’re the captain of the Titanic you hit an iceberg that is a really big problem the Titanic had 2,200 people on board they had 16 lifeboats okay what are you gonna do we all know what happened in this story right in two hours and 40 minutes the Titanic sank only 705 people survived less than a third of the people survived but what if you could think like an entrepreneur what if you could be resourceful even in that terribly desperate moment what if you could think to yourself hmm what do I have on this boat that will keep people alive there were tables wooden tables lots of them those would stay afloat you could use deck chairs as paddles you could use the car tires there were cars and trucks aboard as floating inner tubes what if you could even use the iceberg as an island the iceberg was known to be about 400 feet long and it was not going to sink what if you could use your life boats as ferry boats and ferry passengers over to stand on the ice Island there would have been ways to save lives if you could think in a different way you know I used this example a couple weeks ago I was teaching at Stanford we were teaching executive education to Hispanic entrepreneurs and this is a case the Harvard Business Review has recently put forward we were talking about it how can you be resourceful how can you fail wisely and one of the Hispanic entrepreneurs came up to me so excited at the end of the day and said I run a company out of Chicago I ran a legacy construction business and we are struggling and now I think I could fail wisely I could repurpose some parts of my company I could repurpose some of the resources that I own I can also go back to Chicago and I can think like an entrepreneur that is really exciting and that’s what gets me you know so thrilled with this dataset and with the skills every single person can hopefully take them and improve the kind of work that they’re doing now it’s not only flying a noodle loop and failing wisely but another skill that I really think is important is what I’m calling gift small goods so what’s a small good right it’s a small kindness it’s something of value that you can do for someone else it’s a five-minute favor right so what does that look like you could write a few lines of code you could critique a proposal you could forward a resume you could make an introduction little things that we can do creates huge opportunity for other people now why is it important to do well it’s always been sort of morally right to help out your colleagues but we’ve had a saying nice guys finish last okay here’s the really interesting thing about technology now nice guys finish first and the reason is your reputation will be known it will be transparent if you are gifting small goods you will be helping those around you and other people will hear about it information will come to you people will want to work with you talent will come your way deal flow will come your way that actually makes you a lot more productive the opposite is also true if you are hoarding resources if you’re cheating people if you’re harassing people we will know about that and this is changing just in the last few years the speed of communication and the transparency of our reputation means that we will know so it’s in your self-interest to be gifting small goods and generously helping and assisting those around you now the person that I know who does this best especially in all of the 200 interviews I did is a man named Bob Langer and when people ask me who would you like to be most like in all of those interviews that you did I say I would like to be like Bob Langer and here’s the reason why he has a reputation for integrity and he creates tremendous opportunity for everyone around him now I’m never gonna be a chemical engineer he’s a scientist he runs a the world’s largest bio technology engineering lab it’s at MIT he has co-founded 40 companies that have scaled up he has 350 different licenses with pharmaceutical companies you know close to a hundred thousand three hundred papers that are published he is putting into the world some of the greatest technologies to stop human suffering that’s what Bob’s trying to do and as he does it he brings along so many other people when you ask him what he’s most proud of he says my students you know they’re kind of like my kids I’m so proud as they succeed in the world now bob has succeeded himself we don’t necessarily know his name but all of the things that he’s done we do know about he’s the pioneer of human tissue engineering he’s the pioneer of many of the cancer delivery drugs most all of them in fact he’s even making synthetic vocal cords so that Julie Andrews of the sound of music might sing again there are so many wonderful things that he’s bringing into the world he says that it’s important to some gift small goods and support other people because in his own career he had a rocky start he had a PhD from MIT and Chemical Engineering but he wanted to teach high school and he sent out 40 letters and he got 40 rejections and then he thought okay maybe I could be an engineer in the medical space and he started sending resumes and calling absolutely no one responded until one person did a man named Judah Folkman and he was a Boston Children’s Hospital and Folkman gave Bob Langer a first opportunity and supported him Folkman was a cancer surgeon and that’s where most of Bob Langer’s work has been applied so Bob Langer has said you know so many opportunities were created by this one person from him it said him on his whole path to doing what he’s doing so the question for all of us is who are we helping you know who who are we bringing along who are we pushing forward in the world if we want to create things the world hasn’t seen it’s difficult to do and I believe life is a search for allies we have to go out and help each other that brings me back to all of the people who’ve helped me there have been many along this path starting with my grandmother you know I really do think she’s an embodiment of what Eleanor Roosevelt said which is the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams Nadine has definitely lived that for many years now I believe that the future belongs to those not only who believe in the beauty of their dreams but those who will take action and those who will make their dreams a reality so may you go into the world and think like an entrepreneur and may you use that ability to benefit the world thank you [Applause]
CEO and Author Amy Wilkinson reveals the skills underlying entrepreneurial success. She is founder and CEO of Ingenuity, a lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business and author of The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs.
About Amy Wilkinson
Wilkinson advises executives and emerging leaders around the world on how to master the skills that underlie entrepreneurial success. Her career spans leadership roles at McKinsey & Company, J.P. Morgan and as founder of Alegre, a foreign-based export company.
Wilkinson has been a keynote speaker for corporations, institutes and universities around the world. Recent speaking events include the World Economic Forum at Davos, Consumer Electronics Show, NASSCOM (India’s Leadership Forum), Microsoft, IBM, TD Ameritrade, National Governor’s Association and Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
She is an expert for The Wall Street Journal and has been featured by CNN, Fox News, CNBC, Bloomberg TV & Radio, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Fortune, Forbes, Inc. TIME, The Washington Post and USA Today.