Doing What You Can With What You Have
Saras Sarasvathy teaches at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. In 2007, Fortune Small Business magazine named her among the top 18 entrepreneurship professors worldwide. In her PhD thesis, Saras tried to understand how entrepreneurs think and take decisions. Working under the economist and Nobel laureate Herbert Simon, she interviewed several entrepreneurs. All of them had been in business for at least 10 years, started multiple companies, and taken at least one of them public. In her study, the entrepreneurs were given a case about a hypothetical start-up called ‘Venturing’ and had to take decisions to run it successfully.
At that time, it was believed that entrepreneurs first recognise an opportunity and then assemble the resources to reach their goal. However, Saras found that when faced with uncertainty, entrepreneurs adopt a different approach to decision-making. They begin by assessing their personal strengths and weaknesses, and then seek to build partnerships with potential stakeholders. Entrepreneurs did not wait for the perfect solution, rather, they improvised and did what they could with what they had. Saras called this ‘effectual thinking’.
The conventional approach to entrepreneurship, which is the opposite of effectual thinking, centres around structured planning and prior research. This leaves little room for surprises or unexpected events. Effectual thinkers recognise that in times of uncertainty, it is difficult to plan and predict the future. They are open to surprises that can be a source of new opportunities. Rather than trying to predict the future, effectual thinkers build it by interacting with other stakeholders. Effectual thinking is not confined to entrepreneurs. In fact, it is an approach or logic that anyone can use. Whether you are in the corporate world, government, or the social sector, effectual thinking can help you leapfrog to your goals.
BASIS FOR ACTION What should I do? What can I do?
Can this way of thinking be taught and learnt? It was long believed that entrepreneurship was an inherent trait that you were born with. Saras disagrees. For her, entrepreneurship is like reading or writing, and is a skill you can develop. She quotes Jack Roseman, the tech entrepreneur:
Teaching entrepreneurship is like teaching music. We cannot give you a voice, but no matter what kind of voice you bring to the classroom, we can teach you to sing better.
An Entrepreneurial Career
Anshu Mor began his new career by thinking like an entrepreneur. During his 18 years at Microsoft, Anshu had built a reputation as a master of ceremonies. He was often on stage, hosting product launches and annual company events. Anshu featured in internal brand videos and wrote content for business groups within the company. On the side, he spent time at Kommune India, which hosts workshops for artists, creators and performers.
Anshu learnt to write comedy, structure material, and perform on stage. Initially he did short gigs on other comedians’ shows. Anshu became friends with Amit Tandon, a popular comedian on Netflix. Amit taught him the ropes of stand-up comedy.
A month after they met, Anshu performed at a local comedy club. He still remembers every face in the audience. As they clapped and cheered, he knew that he belonged there: Strangely I was not insecure about the move at all [from Microsoft]. I guess it was because I was fairly clear on what my capabilities are . . .
Along with three artists, Anshu set up an entertainment and storytelling collective. Besides stand-up comedy, ‘Talking Mime’ has a web series and hosts a podcast. Using his network, Anshu organised corporate workshops on leadership, the art of business storytelling, and brand consulting. In his journey from corporate executive to stand-up comedian, Anshu utilised three pillars of entrepreneurial thinking: bird in hand, crazy quilt, and pilot in the plane.
Mukesh Sud, Associate Professor at IIM Ahmedabad, has three decades of professional experience divided between academia and entrepreneurship. An engineer from IIT Delhi, he founded several small-scale industries involved in abrasive blasting and thermal sprayed coatings. Mukesh began his academic career in the US at Augustana College (2006-09), after which he was a tenured faculty member at the Dolan School of Business, Fairfield University (2009-15). Mukesh is a visiting faculty at Ashoka University, Delhi NCR, and the Naropa Fellowship at Leh. At IIM Ahmedabad he conducts executive education programmes on ‘Design Thinking’ and ‘Creating Entrepreneurial Organizations’. He is on FICCI’s Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) Committee.
Priyank Narayan is the Founding Director of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Ashoka University, a leading liberal arts university. He started his career with IBM. He has been an entrepreneur for many years before joining Ashoka University. Priyank teaches courses on Design Thinking, Innovation Management, and Developing an Entrepreneurial Mindset. He is a guest faculty member at IIT Delhi, IIM Ahmedabad, HEC Paris, and Naropa Fellowship, Leh. An MBA from the Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Priyank has also studied at IIM Ahmedabad. He has completed executive education programmes at Harvard Business School and Singularity University, California. He holds a PhD from the Department of Management Studies, IIT Delhi