Entrepreneurs Should Avoid Tunnel Vision and Embrace Flexibility

VP K12 Computer Science Products, Carnegie Learning

It’s an often-repeated adage that you can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Yet entrepreneurs have a hard time taking this advice to heart. Especially when desperation sets in, we become afflicted with tunnel vision.

Focus vs. Flexibility

Sometimes an entrepreneur’s positive trait of being laser-focused on a single goal becomes a detriment to achieving that very goal. A founder may start a business based on addressing a significant market need–one that they feel personally passionate about. Yet if they become obsessed with solving that problem, they may spend too much time and money upfront on product development.

It is extremely difficult to develop a product that immediately addresses a customer’s need with the right value proposition and clear positioning, at the right price point, that is simple and delightful to use. All of these requirements contribute to the long and tortured product development path that most startups follow.

Companies usually pivot one or more times before achieving any level of success. A pivot might signal that a company has been flexible and is truly addressing market demand. Or maybe a pivot is simply a shift from one singular goal to another. A pivot can be a productive game-changer, or it can simply be a move from one compass point on to another.

Fail Fast and Often—Myth or Reality?

Not enough entrepreneurs are able to quickly introduce a “most valuable product” into the market for feedback, fast iteration, and proof of concept. This “fail fast and often” mindset gets a lot of talk, but not as much actual practice. It’s much more common to see entrepreneurs running out of resources overdeveloping a product before it even gets into the hands of the intended user.

Being focused on solving one problem in one way doesn’t serve product development well. Instead, we need to truly incorporate processes such as agile development and A/B testing into our process.

Conflict Between Tunnel Vision and Entrepreneurship

The very definition of entrepreneurship is based on someone who thinks outside the box. Yet many creative entrepreneurs fall prey to repetition. They develop habits and practices do not move their businesses forward. Many times they even have paid [or unpaid] mentors and consultants pointing them in a productive direction, but that advice falls on seemingly deaf ears.

Really listening to suggestions and feedback is an extremely important skill that laser-focused foundetunnelvisionrs need to develop. They don’t have to take every piece of advice, because certainly not all of it is productive. However, there are usually kernels of truth that spring out of conversations with users, advisers, investors, and mentors that can form the basis for positive change.

A New Way of Driving

Tunnel vision may cause us to get completely lost before we finally admit we are lost and pull a U-turn—with tires squealing and a death grip on the steering wheel. Maybe instead we should be kinder to ourselves and our companies. Pay closer attention to the first signs of indecision behind the wheel and make more nimble and proactive changes. Instead of taking a “my way or the highway” approach, purposefully explore detours that actually get us closer to our final destination.

Is “purposeful indecision” an oxymoron? Not any more than “blind faith”. Being open to trying new paths is much more productive (and reflects the spirit of entrepreneurship) than tunnel vision.

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Image by flickr user marfis75, licensed under Creative Commons


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