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Entrepreneurial Thinking as a Key to Business Success

September 05, 2023
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For professionals at any level of business, success can be measured and even determined by how well a company solves its customers’ problems.

CSUMB’s Assistant Professor of Economics and Entrepreneurship Dr. Jennifer Kuan has noted that many business professionals start their innovation processes with the solution: They’ve developed a new technology, for example, and they go looking for problems it can solve. In a recent video, however, she discussed the importance and benefits of a customer-centric approach known as entrepreneurial thinking. Highlights of her comments, in which she emphasized this method’s strengths as a means of solving problems and a key to business success, follow here.

What is entrepreneurial thinking?

In the video, Dr. Kuan describes entrepreneurial thinking as an approach to problem-solving that involves focusing on a problem to be solved and testing various solution ideas as early, often, quickly, and cost-effectively as possible. She notes the importance of taking full ownership not only of each problem and solution, but of the search for solutions, as well. In her experience, this approach drives businesspeople to look for the truths of any problem/solution situation, rather than staying emotionally attached to their own early ideas.

The Advantages of Entrepreneurial Thinking in Business

Entrepreneurial thinking is beneficial not only for entrepreneurs–those creating and building new businesses–but for professionals at all levels in all business careers. Because it requires creativity, Dr. Kuan says that entrepreneurial thinking is important for large companies, “the ones that are innovative and always solving new problems,” and growing firms of all sizes that strive to improve their outcomes.

By hiring and retaining entrepreneurial thinkers, a company enhances its innovation and creativity, increases its productivity and problem-solving, and can lead in the marketplace through the development of new products, services, and processes.

In becoming a strong entrepreneurial thinker, each individual builds essential skills that are valued in today’s employment landscape. Successful entrepreneurial thinkers have a competitive edge in the hiring process because they:

  • Are proactive in taking on new projects and responsibilities
  • Demonstrate innovation in problem-solving
  • Adapt quickly and effectively to unexpected challenges
  • Successfully lead innovative ventures
  • Are deeply invested in the quality and success of their work and their organizations

Traits of the Entrepreneurial Thinker

According to Dr. Kuan, the entrepreneurial thinker is recognizable through several traits and habits. That individual:

  • Is quick and decisive
  • Takes the initiative
  • Takes responsibility for problems and solutions
  • Develops creative ideas
  • Tests hypotheses, assumptions, and ideas
  • Takes action; approaches problems and solutions with agility

Entrepreneurial Thinking and the Lean Startup Method

Entrepreneurial thinking is closely tied to the Lean Startup Method, which innovator Eric Ries detailed in his 2011 book, “The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.”

According to Dr. Kuan, the Lean Startup Method was developed by successful entrepreneurs to describe the process they had gone through to start their own companies. She finds it effective because it starts by identifying and articulating the problem–rather than a proposed solution–at hand. This is often a hypothesized problem: Essentially, innovators are saying, “We think people have X problem that we think we’re going to be able to solve.” The process demands that they immediately go out and test their ideas.

This approach to problem-solving intentionally puts the customer front and center. In asking, “Whose problem is this?” the business professional is really asking, “Who is the customer?” The Lean Startup Method drives people to focus on the assumptions they’ve made about customer needs, the effectiveness of proposed solutions, whether and how much customers will pay for those solutions, and so on.

“The whole idea of the Lean Startup Method,” says Dr. Kuan, “is to lower the stakes: to get things to become approachable and do-able.” She finds it to be a strong approach because it quickly moves innovators past unhelpful ideas and assumptions and gets them on track. It often brings in new information which helps them generate original, creative ideas.

Entrepreneurial Thinking at CSU Monterey Bay

A key to successful entrepreneurial thinking is to have a mentor or network to turn to for brainstorming and advice. The academic community in CSUMB’s Responsible Business Online MBA program provides multiple environments in which you can present your ideas, test them out in simulation, and gather feedback to consider in the real world.

BUS 694: The Business Strategy and Entrepreneurship Course

This course addresses the formulation and implementation of a responsible business strategy to create, sustain, and renew competitive advantage for established firms and startups. As an application of the concepts, you’ll design and validate innovative business models.

BUS 698: The Applied Business Strategy Capstone Project

Using the Lean Startup Method, you’ll imagine a startup idea and present it to investors. Through that process, you’ll learn to:

  • Start to address the problem at hand by identifying, articulating, and refining it
  • Own the problem and solve it creatively
  • Put the customer, rather than the technical solution, first
  • Test ideas, hypotheses, and assumptions constantly
  • Tell the story of the problem and solution effectively, in order to engage people in your process

Smart Decision: The CSUMB Responsible Business Online MBA

Gain the entrepreneurial mindset and expertise you need for a successful business career. CSUMB’s Responsible Business Online MBA program empowers you with professional competencies valued by employers in today's global marketplace. Learn from the business veterans and supportive educators of the College of Business faculty in this rigorous yet flexible online experience. Review the admissions details and schedule an appointment with an admissions outreach advisor today.

Meet Dr. Jennifer Kuan

Dr. Kuan joined the CSUMB faculty after more than ten years at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. She is currently studying the commercialization of publicly funded research and development and the history of venture capital.

She publishes academic research on venture capital, technology, and innovation, and on nonprofit trade organizations, especially their role in creating scaffolding for such industries as venture capital, the performing arts, stock exchanges, semiconductors, healthcare, and charities. Her class on venture capital for executive women grew out of her research on the history of venture capital in Silicon Valley. She is the co-founder of être Venture Capital, which invests in mission-driven companies that present innovative solutions to make our world healthier, cleaner, and more equitable.

Dr. Kuan’s technology background includes a decade as an engineer in manufacturing at such Silicon Valley companies as Apple and Solectron, and as a software developer in Germany. She holds a BA in International Relations and an MS in Industrial Engineering, both from Stanford University, and a PhD in Business Administration from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Watch her recent video.