The Global Brainstorm is an event for Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), an international initiative started in 2008 aimed at introducing entrepreneurship among the world’s youth. It was launched in the United Kingdom to connect the Global Entrepreneurship Network via informative and inspiring interactions, live online. It uses the Whether System, a brainstorming technique which is an advanced thinking process designed to help overcome inherent fears and generate fresh, new ideas. Designed to facilitate critical and creative thinking whilst contributing to a constructive conversation, The Global Brainstorm is the brain-child of the lateral thinker Celia Gates. Author of From Brainwave to Business, shortlisted by the Chartered Management Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship book of the year and Energizing Fresh Thinking with the Whether System, Gates was recently in Kathmandu to participate in the “Think and Grow Workshop” organised jointly by Nepal Entrepreneurs’ Hub (NEHUB) in collaboration with King’s College, Bottlers Nepal Limited and Vianet Communications. Madan Lamsal, Editor-in-Chief of New Business Age, talked to Gates on the sidelines of the event about the techniques and tools developed by her, constraints for developing the Nepali entrepreneurial ecosystem, among other issues. Excerpts:
You have trained many entrepreneurs in developing as well as in developed countries. What challenges do you think entrepreneurs are facing in developing countries like Nepal?
Entrepreneurs all over the world face challenges identifying and targeting market sectors with solutions of value, made compellingly available. Difficulties may differ between developed and developing countries when accessing information, finance and viable markets. Entrepreneurial business startup models often exported by developed countries and taught in developing countries, suggest stepping-stones to successes seen in places like Silicon Valley. This is a disappointing reality. We know a successful business grows by adapting to embrace the unique conditions of the ecosystem it is entering.
In some countries, it is acceptable to promote a ‘fail fast’ strategy. In other countries, such a high-risk-high-reward approach can have severe and costly consequences, with prison sentences, as examples. It is easy to envy instances where start-ups secure millions simply to start a new venture when valuable, proven concepts struggle to raise fractions of such funding to expand further. We hear about the success stories. Brutal honesty suggests funding in many entrepreneurial ecosystems is simply not accessible – culturally and conditionally, the value of the market is not substantial enough to support such risk.
Moreover, investing in a startup is high risk – you are investing in the vision of an entrepreneur, a human being on a mission, driven by passion. Who knows where this journey goes? Smart actions and innovative adaptions are required. By developing critical and creative thinking skills and training how to navigate the unknown, each entrepreneur is better able to design his or her unique success strategy - building on what you’ve got rather than what you wish you had. We’re all in various stages of development - evolving in iterations, some in baby steps, others in leaps and bounds. Learn quickly, what you need to know to broaden your perspective, learn what not to do from the mistake’s others have made, make a decision, take action, evaluate; work out what works for you and do more of it. One of the greatest challenges, ultimately – for everybody - is trusting yourself, knowing you know better than anyone else, what will best work for you within your environment.
What types of opportunities do you see for the entrepreneurs in our part of the world?
I have a phrase to quote in answer to your question; “If innovation has got us into this mess, innovation will get us out again.” Innovation is an improved solution to an existing problem. Wherever there are problems, opportunities for innovative ideas and constructive solutions exist. The real opportunity is in perceiving how to turn a problem into a profitable product – a solution or service that you, as an entrepreneur, are passionate to pursue.
That said, I was stunned by the history and beauty of Kathmandu and the friendliness of the people I met. I have yet to visit more of Nepal, though views from the air showed how much unspoilt nature still prevails. As this treasured natural resource loses its free footing around the world, I have to believe protected nature opens eco-tourism opportunities that will grow with the demand for high quality, traditionally crafted, natural materials, sustainably sourced.
More than the opportunity to attract more foreigners, Nepal has much to offer the world. If trade standards can match those set by large purchasing powers such as the EU – the opportunities are over to you. Certainly, I returned home with a taste for ‘Himalayan Breakfast’ tea over my English alternative!
Equally, as global cyber and physical systems connect and collide with big data, artificial intelligence, 3d printing, digital currency, more mobile technology and greater connectivity, plenty of opportunities exist for all problem solvers and established entrepreneurs. In a less regulated environment, there is more scope for innovation. The Financial Technology– Fintech Global Brainstorm of November 2017, strongly suggested the next industry disruptor was unlikely to come from Europe and was more likely to emerge from the Eastern part of the world. By focusing on delivering efficient digital financial services and opening up physical locations as start-up connection-points with product development and advisory information to support the next business generation, countries like Nepal need not look to all the ways of developed countries to better accelerate growth.
Human beings have become complex individuals and have forgotten to think. How have you been able to simplify the process?
Well, that’s why I made it my mission to spend some time thinking about how we think. It is one of the things we take for granted. I think we all could benefit from spending more time ‘thinking about thinking’ and observing our own thoughts. The greatest investment that you ever put into developing an innovative idea is the investment of your time. You can’t get your time back. And so at that point when you have time to think about what you’re going to do with your life, what you’re going do with your future, I decided that my next invention, the next innovation I was going to invest time solving had to respond to a very serious problem. So if we are going to solve the problem and going to spend time on innovation, let’s make sure that the problem we are solving is actually worthwhile.
When I started the next part of my journey, effectively with a blank canvas in front of me and in a fortunate position to be able to spend some time thinking, I asked myself what I thought the biggest problem was that was facing us in the world. The conclusion that I came to was the biggest problem that we currently have is in how we think, interact and collaborate with each other. There is the mental health issue, which is increasingly becoming a challenge and the solutions that exist right now aren’t always adequate. They are good but are not good enough. Edward De Bono actually has a word for it, he calls it ‘ebne’, excellent but not enough and so I started on that note; thinking about how we going to improve thinking. I can’t innovate all of the world’s solution, I have to empower other people to become innovative too. So, I specifically and deliberately set out on that mission, to improve the way we think and to reduce the risks in developing innovation and that’s how all it’s all come about.
Would you recommend any particular tips or mantra to entrepreneurs?
Fear is your friend – we all have inherent fear, let’s face it. Whether we are speaking from a stage or pursuing a high-risk project, we feel fear flutter through our body or petrify us into a state of inaction. Fear can be costly unless we condition it carefully. Fear is simply alerting us to the fact that we’re operating from the fringes of our comfort zone. We’re into new territory – as entrepreneurs, this can often be a place we find ourselves in, alone. That’s ok. Get the butterflies in your stomach flying in formation. Keep calm and concentrate. Move steadily. Think carefully, operate cautiously and concisely. Take baby steps rather than giant leaps and risk only what you can afford to lose. Manage your fear by minimising the dangers; practice a little harder, test on a small scale, build your confidence and credibility accordingly to secure sustainable, long-term success.
Perfection is fear packaged prettily – too easily, entrepreneurs hold themselves back because their ideas and projects ‘aren’t quite ready yet’ – it's not perfect enough for them to expose. But, it will never be perfect. There will always be room to evolve. Better to get the job done, as best you can and then to work to improve. It may not be perfect but it is ‘per effect’ – a direct result of the action you take. With action, you’ll learn fastest, how best to grow.
Mindset and emotional well-being matter more than most of us give them meaning - It is easy to get carried away pursuing profits and other people’s definitions of success but I have come to realise that ‘happiness’ is our greatest, gift, goal and routine responsibility. It’s also the gateway to the best creativity and what keeps our clients coming back.
Time is a measure of change – When we really understand this concept of time, we can maximise our efficiency rather than worrying about how to manage such a precious resource. By prioritising the change or transformation we wish to make and limiting the time we give ourselves to create these changes in, it is amazing what can be done in less time.
Remember: weak brains see the problem, average brains see the challenge, and strong brains see the opportunity – Somebody said this to me and I love the reminder it offers. Brains can be conditioned much like our muscles. Challenge your team in this way to promote an innovative culture in your organisation – the next time anyone complains about a problem, challenge them to think about how the problem could become an opportunity. Who else would benefit if a solution were supplied? Challenge yourself with the same questions as a way to exercise your brain. How could you quickly and easily solve the problem with what you have to hand? From here, you can always retract or expand.
It’s cheaper to recover from the wrong decision than to remain indecisive – Avoid procrastination to save costs. Other people, colleagues, investors, family, friends, etc., will gain a greater conviction in your cause when you prove your vision with clear results. Do it – and then decide.
If you want help making great decisions then the best thing to do it to start with the root of the real problem and broaden your perspective accordingly – More than merely weighing up the pros versus the cons to make a balanced decision, consider your situation from multiple perspectives, as many as you may imagine, taking time to think of it on a sunny day, a rainy day, covered in snow or when strong winds blow – even under a rainbow, as examples. By looking at your situation through parallel lenses, you’ll soon broaden your own perspective. From here, simple solutions and innovative ideas will start to emerge; the results we’re proving using the Whether System.
Any additional thoughts that you would like to share with our readers?
It easy to underestimate or overlook the huge value harboured in the softer skills we take for granted in business and life. In entrepreneurship, personal development is as important as product development when it comes business growth.
I learnt many of my lessons the hard way; making costly mistakes, attempting alternative outcomes from innovative approaches and realising that there is no single, silver-bullet solution to any of the complex conundrums, ingenious innovators and ambitious entrepreneurs offer to the industry. More limited liability, on the responsibility of an entrepreneur, would encourage more innovation – albeit risk-taking, with an opportunity for greater reward. Apart from education, common connection and smart action, entrepreneurship is also about luck, inspiration, perspiration and dedicated time– the discovery and the adventure. Thank you to everybody who contributed to my journey through Kathmandu, I learnt a lot from you.
(Gates’ new book Energizing Fresh Thinking with the Whether System is available to purchase at www.celiagates.com.)