Years ago while working in an art gallery in Texas, and later in Virginia, I came to the realization that artists posses an entirely different mindset from entrepreneurs; one that is geared towards creativity, but not towards business finesse. Years later while owning a business, and observing the approach of my father-in-law (who came from a pure academic background and at one time served as the Dean of Admissions for Davidson), I realized the difference in academic and business mindset. There is nothing wrong with different mindsets, and that is certainly what makes the world go around, but it is important to understand these mindsets since it effects the approach to problem solving. I found an article written by Kerry Ann Rockquemore that addressed these differences from a professor's journey from professor to CEO.
There were five major differences between the academic and entrepreneurial mindset, which I will share her words with you now.
1. Academics move slow. Entrepreneurs move fast.
As an academic my approach to change was to move slowly, deliberately and cautiously. I believed that the best way to minimize mistakes was through extensive conversation, committee meetings, producing volumes of written material, etc. In other words, the best way to make a decision was by slowly moving through a process that involved lots of talking, thinking and analyzing before doing anything. As an entrepreneur I act first and analyze later. Quick movement is essential because my goal is to get into action and fail as fast as possible. Every time I fail, I can evaluate what worked (and didn't work), make quick adjustments, and get back into action. Failing gives me lots of data that I can use to adapt as I'm moving forward.
2. Academics study problems. Entrepreneurs solve problems.
As an academic researcher, my primary goal was to thoroughly analyze the cause of problems. I would spend my time going as deeply as possible to the root of the problem and fleshing it out in all its glorious complexity. As an entrepreneur, problems are to be solved and the cause may (or may not) be relevant to an effective solution. Being solution-obsessed means I spend my time experimenting with solutions and measuring outcomes.
3. Academics function in constraint. Entrepreneurs create possibility.
As an academic at a public university, I was embedded in an environment of shrinking resources and a culture of constraint (there's no budget - state funding is shrinking, you have to do more with less, etc.). This was such a constant pressure over time that it shaped the parameters of my thinking to the point that any brainstorming about solutions started with, "What can be done with no resources." As an entrepreneur, it's critical to first dream up solutions without any constraints and then figure out how to make what you imagine a reality. Instead of assuming no resources are available, entrepreneurs trust that resources can always be generated to fund good ideas.
4. Academics focus on patterns. Entrepreneurs focus on the exceptions.
When I talked about starting a business, almost every conversation with an academic involved the data on the percentage of new businesses that fail. Most of these conversations occurred with social scientists who observe patterns and calculate probabilities as part of their research. The implicit message was that most businesses fail, the probability is high that yours will fail, so why bother trying? The entrepreneurs I talked to focused on the small percentage of businesses that are highly successful. The implicit message was that there are exceptions to every pattern, so you'll want to focus on how to be one of the few who succeed.
5. Academics loathe promotion. Entrepreneurs live to sell.
From my academic mindset, promoting myself, my work, or my ideas was unseemly. I was professionally socialized to believe that people should quietly do good work, submit to the review of others, and then let that work speak for itself. As an entrepreneur, I'm in love with the solutions I offer so I'm constantly making invitations to people to step into our programs because I've seen the transformations that occur as a result. There is no shame in my game whatsoever; in fact, I feel it's a disservice not to let people know what we have to offer.
Reading about the differences between an academic and entrepreneurial mindset may have caused a bit of discomfort! Whether they resonate with you or not, I'm drawing out the differences because I want to raise your awareness that while an academic mindset is perfectly suited to teaching, knowledge production and campus life, it may keep us from quickly getting into action when it's time to make our big ideas a reality.
Work hard, be productive and above all else stay positive.