Nov 212011

Woman looking through her fingers

Everyone talks about the transformational power of digital and social media, the contribution that technology and the Internet are having on our society – and nobody understands that power better than entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs approach challenges differently than others with a “fail fast, learn quick, try just about anything to realize success” type of approach.

When that kind of thinking is applied not just to organizational needs, but also the larger global challenges we face, there is huge potential for impact.  But for all the changes and advancements, the new innovations and concepts that emerge from incubators these days, not enough progress is being made.  We talk a lot about how entrepreneurs can change the world, but most of the important things about our society seem to be largely operating as they have for a long time.

The promise of new technology is scale, reach, and efficiency. In a connected society, a solution to a complex problem – whether its in the context of business or society – has the potential to reach and improve the lives of people all across the globe. Solutions, of course, are not easy to find. And the more new tools we develop and platforms we promote, and the more we talk about follower counts and funding levels, the harder it will be to find compelling solutions we really need.

Its time for entrepreneurs to shift their thinking.  Two places to start:

1) Think bigger, and be truly social.
We have become too accustomed to measuring success based on the size or popularity of an organization and not the value that a community of supporters places on the work that groups are doing. Instead of leveraging the knowledge we’ve gained about how people interact, what they want and how they will behave, we spend most of our energy on using social media, often at the expense of other, more important, activities. Entrepreneurs need to stop using social media and starting being truly social.

Everything is social.  Too many entrepreneurs devote resources and attention to building or managing their tool(s) –understandable because the response from investors when this happens suggests that’s important.  Fast forward, however, and see most entrepreneurs with this mentality struggling to stay current and convert followers into committed support. The tool itself won’t change anything. Having a million followers or raising a big round of funding doesn’t mean you are successful. It’s just the first step toward doing something truly exciting and important.

2) Pick your team carefully – and change it regularly.
Some of the biggest efforts to address problems facing our society are led by organizations that are at a management disadvantage. Everyone wants to be a visionary leader of an exciting startup, but not everyone is qualified.  Anyone can build a cool new tool, but it takes a special group of people to turn a smart concept into a game-changing success.

Amazing entrepreneurs are surrounded by amazing teams throughout their growth and evolution. That team changes regularly, complementing a leader’s strengths and addressing weaknesses. Personality and loyalty are important, but the most important trait of successful entrepreneurs is the ability to build, and continually improve, the team around them to suit the needs of the organization and marketplace. The people you have on your staff, many of whom have contributed to the growth, the early growth or the prominence of your work, are not necessarily the right people for the next stage of work on which an organization is about to embark. This problem is not limited to staff either. Few entrepreneurs are willing to drop an investor.  But the same old team, operating in the same existing ways, won’t work – not as the world changes all around us. You need to be prepared to fire you staff, and re-make your board, to stay ahead of the game.

To successfully address serious issues, business or otherwise, organizations are going to need to change their culture, business practices, and approach to embrace the challenges of working in a connected society. That starts with thinking differently, which is easy.  It may not seem that way now– there are very few organizations and entrepreneurs that are currently able to look at the long-term implications of technology and the Internet on patterns of production and consumption.  Be one of the few who are willing to abandon what they think they know in favor of what they should try.

Entrepreneurs have always had an advantage over everyone else when it comes to doing new and important things. That’s because entrepreneurs think differently.  It’s more important than ever today to shift your thinking – and everything else that flows from that.

About the Author:
Brian Reich is the author of Shift & Reset: Strategies for Addressing Serious Issues in a Connected Society (Wiley, 2011) . He is also co-author of Media Rules!: Mastering Today’s Technology to Connect with and Keep Your Audience (Wiley, 2007). Brian contributes as a Fast Company Expert, hosts a regular podcast discussion about the impact of media and technology on society and teaches consumer behavior and marketing strategy in the graduate school of communications at Columbia University.

  One Response to “Shifting Your Thinking is Easy”

  1. I think that your idea about changing your team regularly is great! Sure, it might be a little frightening, but I think you’re absolutely right to suggest change in that way in order to move forward.

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