Entrepreneurs learn for a living

When I talk to people about entrepreneurism, people who haven’t had experience often expect the conversation to focus on business plans and investors, on marketing and advertising. While those will be important at various times, the real work of the entrepreneur is learning.

Entrepreneurs learn through doing.

More generally, the essence of the entrepreneurial process is learning. To create something that people are willing to care about or to pay for is an exercise in exploring the unknown. Who are my customers? What problem do they care about? How can I build it? What will it cost to create? What skills do I need to create it? How is this better or different than what has come before? Why do I want to create this?

To answer those types of questions, and more importantly to find out what other questions need to asked, an entrepreneurial thinker needs to be an open-minded, creative, focused, and self-motivated learner. Open-minded in that you need to be able to question your assumptions based on new evidence. Creative in combining taking action and making progress with learning. Focused on the most important unknowns. And self-motivated in that there will often be nobody else there to push you along to get things done.

Entrepreneurial learning is based on action and experimentation. Where students in a traditional classroom often see the scientific method as an abstraction to be checked off on a test, the iterative learner uses it in every aspect of their efforts. Choose the most important piece to be created or the most critical unknown. Figure out the quickest, simplest action you can take to move forward, and take that action (do something!). Afterwards, reflect on what was learned: what worked, what didn’t work, and what adjustments should be made based on this new knowledge.

Experience beats advice, every time. Mentors, advisors and teachers can help with general directions and ideas, but when you have tried something in the context of your problem, your experience provides a much surer compass than those farther removed from your goal.

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