Entrepreneurs have proven they can tackle really big issues and solve many of the world’s problems — even ones we didn’t know we had. While Google may have started out as two guys with a mission to make a better search engine, it has changed how we find restaurants, use email, and live in so many other ways. In fact, all entrepreneurial success stories converge on one common activity: problem solving.
Problems: The Entrepreneur’s Natural Prey
Society usually portrays problems as things to be avoided, but successful entrepreneurs know the truth. Problems are there to be sought out, uncovered, and taken head on. That’s true whether you’re Elon Musk trying to keep his rockets on target or Watermill Express CEO Lani Dolifka trying to provide clean water conveniently and affordably to a town with municipal water quality issues.
Not only is solving problems necessary for entrepreneurial success, it’s also the right thing to do. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson highlighted this moral imperative at the 2016 Fortune-Time Global Forum: “I sincerely believe that companies need to work with the social sector to get on top of the problems of the world.”
Problems provide an inspiring challenge, opportunities for growth, and a way to give back to our society and world. But finding the most effective path toward solving them — especially the nasty, ugly, seemingly intractable ones — is not always easy. So, let’s look at five things you should do if your startup wants to start tackling the world’s tough problems:
1. Make a difference that you’re truly passionate about.
There’s a plethora of good causes to get behind, but you’ll be more successful if your startup tackles an issue that you deeply care about or personally connect to. For instance, Dave Kerpen, a serial entrepreneur, recently became CEO of UMA Health, an appointment scheduling website startup that’s taking on a big challenge: removing a barrier for people with mental health conditions.
Kerpen was intimately familiar with this challenge — his dad has chronic bipolar disorder and has spent three decades in and out of New York psych wards. When it comes to mental illness, many don’t clue their employer in — they feel that discussing their condition is taboo or that they could be judged. Earlier this month, Kerpen shared, “I’ve always believed that mental health isn’t about those who are sick vs those who are well — it’s about all of us improving our happiness, security, sense of safety and self-worth. It’s about all of us becoming focused on who we are and what we want to get out of life and give to this world.”
2. Lean into your strengths.
Conquering problems requires competence that comes from exploiting your greatest strengths as an entrepreneur. You must be clear on just what those strengths are so you can lean into true strengths rather than perceived or desired ones. Fortunately, the Core Values Index, three-by-three assessments, the WorkPlace Big 5, and numerous other assessment tools can help you determine just that.
Gallup CEO Jim Clifton has talked about the role of personal and business strengths in entrepreneurial success and listed the strengths he’s observed among top entrepreneurs, including “rare drive and determination” and “confidence and self-efficacy that overrides the presence of risk.” These are the sorts of strengths you should be getting in touch with and seeking to leverage in your entrepreneurial efforts.
3. Get inspired by technology.
With the complexity of our world, few problems can be solved without technology. Be prepared to get inspired by tech developments — and offer some of your own. From pollinating drones to sieves that may make ocean water drinkable to nonpolluting plastics and airplanes, entrepreneurs are finding innovative ways to make a host of products and activities better.
Computer and data science technology will underlie almost all future R&D. There’s no doubt that data analytics will unveil new insights in medicine, ecology, urban planning, transportation, agriculture, and other areas critical to sustainable progress in the 21st century.
4. Build a team that cares, and care about your team.
As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In the same way, entrepreneurship today is rarely a matter of a lone genius in his garage. Entrepreneurship requires a community of support, and having a good team — one whose members truly care about each other as well as your mission — is critical for success. After all, happiness boosts workplace productivity by 12 percent, and what better way to instill happiness in your team than putting together a group of people who care?
That caring cohesion requires understanding the strengths of your various team members, staying responsive to their needs, and knowing how they fit into the larger goal. Ron Carucci, managing partner at Navalent, puts it this way: “For leaders trying to gauge the collective mood of a team, a deeper ‘Spidey sense’ is needed. If one person is having an off day, the entire team’s contributions can be at risk.”
5. Collaborate with others who share your goals.
Similar to the crucial role your team plays, sharing resources and brainpower with other businesses is a strong accelerator toward success. With the world’s problems growing in complexity, collaborations across companies might be one of the most effective way to solve them. So, find another business leader or entrepreneur to collaborate with who shares your goal of social good but has different strengths.
Problems represent opportunities, and entrepreneurs are well positioned to not only gain from them, but share the wealth with the world. By working from your strengths, pursuing a cause you’re passionate about, leveraging the best technology, and working with an engaged and caring team, you can make an enormous difference.