Whether you have dreams of starting the next global enterprise, you’re considering a side hustle, or you’re just looking to be more innovative in your corporate day job, building an entrepreneurial skill set is something that can benefit every one of us.
, Executive Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and Professor of the Practice at Brown University, joined me today to discuss his new book See, Solve, Scale
In this interview, we discuss how entrepreneurship is grounded in listening well and solving problems creatively. He shares his favorite strategies for turning an unsolved problem into a breakthrough success.
Listen to the full conversation on Apple, Spotify, your favorite podcast platform, or just click play on the audio player above.
Entrepreneurship is a structured process
“Sometimes people think…[entrepreneurial skill is] something that you're born with; it's congenital; that you're able to be an entrepreneur just by virtue of being born with a talent. And I know for a fact that is not true. I know everybody is born with the innate ability to be an entrepreneur,” he began.
“Entrepreneurship is a structured process.”
- The first step is See. This is effectively looking around, paying attention, and spotting real opportunities, pain points, or holes in the marketplace that even the end-user or customer may not realize they need.
- The second step is Solve. This is what “you might call invention. There’s certainly creativity involved.” But it’s invention with intention. “Too often, tech people are starting with a potential solution and hoping to stumble into a problem they can address.” There is “some structure about the creativity. It uses things like nominal group technique and systematic inventive thinking.” Often these solutions don’t emerge from big “eureka” moments, but rather moments in which you might say “huh, that’s funny.”
- The third step is Scale. And here the focus is on delivering real impact over the long term. Because something could be impactful but short-lived. And we’d call this a fad.
How can we apply this process in a corporate environment?
Not everyone is or aspires to be an entrepreneur in the traditional sense. But there are ways to infuse this structured, creative problem-solving methodology into the work we’re doing for a company.
“You don’t have the embrace the entire process,” Danny explained. “There are times when people will embrace bottom-up research” (a concept described in the book) in order to be more empathetic and to “understand what other people are going through in order to identify problems you can solve.”
This may mean a salesperson paying more attention to the customer experience to identify opportunities to enhance or simplify service. Or it may be the HR person watching teams interact with policies and programs, seeking areas of complexity or confusion they can streamline.
“If you're being hired to do almost anything, it's in some way to solve a problem. And so learning how to identify those problems, how to use different structured approaches to creativity and innovation in order to do, to develop the solutions and then figuring out how you can have big impact” is going to set you up for success.
What does bottom-up research look like in practice?
Danny shared a story from his book that delivered both insight and a chuckle.
Bottom-up research is effectively about learning not by asking questions but by observing people firsthand—because consumers don’t always know there’s a problem to be solved. And further, it’s not their responsibility to define the problem.
So Danny talked about how years ago, Proctor and Gamble (P+G) sent researchers into the homes (with consent of course!) of some of their customers to observe how they interacted with P+G products—one of which was a powder laundry detergent packaged in a cardboard box. And rather than open the box from the top, researchers discovered that some people were stabbing the middle of the box to create a hole from which to pour the detergent.
This insight—which only came through firsthand observation—ultimately became the impetus for liquid detergent, which was an improvement that customers didn’t realize they needed.
How might you apply the See, Solve, Scale framework?
Danny encourages you to think about where there might be an unmet need or yet-to-be-discovered problem or opportunity.
“If you come [to a meeting with your boss] armed… with some of your qualitative research, your ethnographic research, your bottom-up research from the See stage of watching consumers interact with [your] product… and you say, ‘Hey, I've got some interesting insights that might shed some light on where we might take the product moving forward,” what kind of value might you have the opportunity to deliver?
Danny shared more tips, stories, and bits of inspiration in our conversation. And there’s even more to be discovered in the book. Listen to our interview for more great insights. And then pick up your copy of See, Solve, Scale