How to think like an entrepreneur: The Inventure Cycle

The latest thinking on the foundational skills necessary to build a new venture

The Lean Startup is a process for turning ideas into commercial ventures. Its premise is that startups begin with a series of untested hypotheses. They succeed by getting out of the building, testing those hypotheses and learning by iterating and refining minimal viable products in front of potential customers.

That’s all well and good if you already have an idea. But where do startup ideas come from? Where do inspiration, imagination and creativity come to bear? How does that all relate to innovation and entrepreneurship?

Quite honestly I never gave this much thought. As an entrepreneur my problem was that I had too many ideas. My imagination ran 24/7 and to me every problem was a challenge to solve and new product to create. It wasn’t until I started teaching that I realized that not everyone’s head worked the same way. While the Lean Startup gave us a process for turning ideas into businesses – what’s left unanswered was, “Where do the ideas come from?  How do you get them?”

It troubled me that the practice of entrepreneurship (including the Lean Startup) was missing a set of tools to unleash my students’ imaginations and lacked a process to apply their creativity. I realized the innovation/entrepreneurship process needed a “foundation” – the skills and processes that kick-start an entrepreneurs imagination and creative juices. We needed to define the language and pieces that make up an “entrepreneurial mindset.”

As luck would have it, at Stanford I found myself teaching in the same department with Tina Seelig. Tina is Professor of the Practice at Stanford University School of Engineering, and Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. Reading her book inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity was the first time I realized someone had cracked the code on how to turn imagination and creativity into innovation.

Here’s Tina’s latest thinking on the foundational skills necessary to build a new venture.

There is an insatiable demand for innovation and entrepreneurship. These skills are required to help individuals and ventures thrive in a competitive and dynamic marketplace. However, many people don’t know where to start. There isn’t a well-charted course from inspiration to implementation.

Other fields  -  such as physics, biology, math, and music  –  have a huge advantage when it comes to teaching those topics. They have clearly defined terms and a taxonomy of relationships that provide a structured approach for mastering these skills. That’s exactly what we need in entrepreneurship. Without it, there’s dogged belief that these skills can’t be taught or learned.

Below is a proposal for definitions and relationships for the process of bringing ideas to life, which I call the Inventure Cycle. This model provides a scaffolding of skills, beginning with imagination, leading to a collective increase in entrepreneurial activity.

Inventure Cycle

  • Imagination is envisioning things that do not exist
  • Creativity is applying imagination to address a challenge
  • Innovation is applying creativity to generate unique solutions
  • Entrepreneurship is applying innovation, bringing ideas to fruition, by inspiring others’ imagination

Inventure CycleThis is a virtuous cycle: Entrepreneurs manifest their ideas by inspiring others’ imagination, including those who join the effort, fund the venture, and purchase the products. This model is relevant to startups and established firms, as well as innovators of all types where the realization of a new idea  –  whether a product, service, or work of art  –  results in a collective increase in imagination, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

This framework allows us to parse the pathway, describing the actions and attitudes required at each step along the way.

  • Imagination requires engagement and the ability to envision alternatives
  • Creativity requires motivation and experimentation to address challenges
  • Innovation requires focusing and reframing to generate unique solutions
  • Entrepreneurship requires persistence and the ability to inspire others

Not every person in an entrepreneurial venture needs to have every skill in the cycle. However, every venture needs to cover every base. Without imaginers who engage and envision, there aren’t compelling opportunities to address. Without creators who are motivated to experiment, routine problems don’t get solved. Without innovators who focus on challenging assumptions, there are no fresh ideas. And, without entrepreneurs who persistently inspire others, innovations sit on the shelf.

Let’s look at an example to see these principles at work:

As a Biodesign Innovation Fellow at Stanford University, Kate Rosenbluth spent months in the hospital shadowing neurologists and neurosurgeons in order to understand the biggest unmet needs of physicians and their patients.

In the imagination stage, Kate worked with a team of engineers and physicians to make lists of hundreds of problems that needed solving, from outpatient issues to surgical challenges. By being immersed in the hospital with a watchful eye, she was able to see opportunities for improvement that had been overlooked. This stage required engagement and envisioning.

In the creativity stage, the team was struck by how many people struggle with debilitating hand tremors that keep them from holding a coffee cup or buttoning a shirt. They learned that as many as six million people in the United States are stricken with Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions that cause tremors. The most effective treatment is deep brain stimulation, an onerous and expensive intervention that requires permanently implanting wires in the brain and a battery pack in the chest wall. Alternatively, patients can take drugs that often have disabling side effects. The team was driven to help these patients and began meeting with experts, combing the literature, and testing alternative treatments. This stage required motivation and experimentation.

In the innovation stage, Kate had an insight that changed the way that she thought about treating tremors. She challenged the assumption that the treatment had to focus on the root cause in the brain and instead focused on the peripheral nervous system in the hand, where the symptoms occur. She partnered with Stanford professor Scott Delp to develop and test a relatively inexpensive, noninvasive, and effective treatment. This stage required focus and reframing.

In the entrepreneurship stage, Kate recently launched a company, Cala Health, to develop and deliver new treatments for tremors. There will be innumerable challenges along the way to bringing the products to market, including hiring a team, getting FDA approval, raising subsequent rounds of funding, and manufacturing and marketing the device. These tasks require persistence inspiring others.

While developing the first product, Kate has had additional insights, which have stimulated new ideas for treating other diseases with a similar approach, coming full circle to imagination!

The Inventure Cycle is the foundation of frameworks for innovation and entrepreneurship, such as design thinking and the lean startup methodology. Both of these focus on defining problems, generating solutions, building prototypes, and iterating on the ideas based on feedback. The Inventure Cycle describes foundational skills that are mandatory for those methods to work. Just as we must master arithmetic before we dive into algebra or calculus, it behooves us to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and methodology before we design products and launch ventures. By understanding the Inventure Cycle and honing the necessary skills, we identify more opportunities, challenge more assumptions, generate unique solutions, and bring more ideas to fruition.

With clear definitions and a taxonomy that illustrates their relationships, the Inventure Cycle defines the pathway from inspiration to implementation. This framework captures the skills, attitudes, and actions that are necessary to foster innovation and to bring breakthrough ideas to the world.

Lessons Learned

  • The Inventure Cycle defines entrepreneurship as applied innovation, innovation as applied creativity, and creativity as applied imagination
  • Entrepreneurship requires inspiring others’ imagination, resulting in a collective increase in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship
  • This framework allows us to parse the skills, attitudes, and actions needed at each step in the entrepreneurial process.

(article by S.Blank)

Digital life…


“Digital is everything, but not everything is digital. So yes, being online has made our lives better in so many ways.

…But let’s not forget that there’s a real world out there, too, the one we live in.”

David Sable

Ways to get more out of every single hour

“Lost time is never found again.” – Benjamin Franklin

Time is a key resource that we simply cannot replenish. The 24 hours of each day are all we are given—once spent, these hours are lost forever. This means that if you’re struggling to fit all of your priorities and “to-dos” into your day, it’s time to look for methods to use those hours and minutes more effectively.

Here are a few research-backed suggestions that can help you make the most of the time you have.

1. Value Every Single Minute

As a coach, I’ve realized that on a basic level, we tend to sell ourselves short in the time department. In many cases, we even allow others to take advantage of our time. So the most important step in time management is to take ownership of our time, making room for the activities that are meaningful and productive, and eliminating those that have less long-term value.

What sets worthy tasks apart are the outcomes associated with your time investment. For example, you might routinely attend a meeting that includes a lot of back-and-forth, but not a lot of action. Could that allotted time be better spent on an alternative activity, such as connecting with clients or collaborating with colleagues? Often, there are opportunities to “mine” time for more productive activities—we simply overlook them.

To this end, take a hard look at how you’ve been spending your time by completing a calendar audit. Start with this exercise: Record your hour-by-hour activities for two weeks. Then review your entries with these questions in mind: Was the time well spent? Were there solid benefits associated with the time spent? Would you go the same route again? In many cases, a “time” issue is actually a “task” issue. So jettison the tasks that add little to your effectiveness.

2. Make Room for More Focus

From ringing phones to co-workers stopping by your desk for a chat, distractions are plentiful in most office environments. (Handling the “drive-bys” can be a real challenge.) While these distractions have become an accepted part of work life, they can wreak havoc on our levels of productivity. When we’re in stop-and-start mode all day, we find ourselves repeating tasks, losing our place, and spinning our wheels. In fact, it can take 20 minutes or longer to re-focus after an interruption.

In some cases, open offices are the culprit. However, we also contribute to the problem with the choices that we make. Psychologist Daniel Goleman discusses that we need to take control and protect ourselves from our own schedules—building time into our work lives to focus deeply on important tasks. We need to identify slices of time when, as Goleman explains, we have the opportunity to “cocoon” and concentrate fully.

You might consider silencing your cell phone or utilizing Google’s Inbox Pause feature to turn off incoming email for an hour or so each day. You can also ask your manager about setting aside two, uninterrupted 30-minute time periods during your workday, perhaps as your day begins, at lunchtime, or at the close of the day, where you can hunker down and do focused work.

You’ll likely be surprised just how much you get out of that time.

3. Tame Procrastination

Procrastination is one of the most common workplace challenges—and for some of us; it can become a huge time waster. While procrastination can stem from feeling overwhelmed or under-prepared (in which case, don’t delay seeking guidance), research also suggests that procrastination can occur as the result of how we view tasks and goals. Specifically, we cast certain tasks in a very negative light—for, example, “I’ll finish the report by Friday, so my manager won’t be upset with me.” These are called “avoidance” goals—you complete them to avoid a negative consequence—and interestingly, they have a greater tendency to be correlated with procrastination.

But here’s the good news: You can curb procrastination by attempting to view these tasks differently, reframing them as an “approach” goal versus an “avoidance” goal. If you’re dreading a certain task, attempt to see it in the context of a possibly more appealing outcome. Could its completion contribute to advancing a larger, more positive goal—for example, impressing clients or being viewed as a team player? This may help you stay on course. An added bonus? Approach goals seem to offer more satisfaction when they are ultimately accomplished.

(article by M.Gottschalk)

“Non comprate un nuovo video game: fatene uno. Non scaricate l’ultima app: disegnatela. Non usate semplicemente il vostro telefono: programmatelo”.

L’appello del presidente degli Stati Uniti Barack Obama:

“Non comprate un nuovo video game: fatene uno. Non scaricate l’ultima app: disegnatela. Non usate semplicemente il vostro telefono: programmatelo”.

“Che tu sia un giovane uomo o una giovane donna, che tu viva in città o in campagna: il computer diventerà buona parte del tuo futuro. Studiare la scienza del computer ed avere quelle competenze è importante per il tuo futuro, è importante per il futuro della nazione.”

Ciao Marco…


Thomas Edison once said: “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.

So, what happens when you lack the inspiration or the tools to bring great ideas to life? You turn to the experts, the ones who understand that innovation is a dynamic concept that involves many interconnected factors such as creativity, productivity, market insight and hey, sometimes, even a little luck.

Here is a nice quote to keep in mind: “We learn that innovation comes from a variety of sources, and in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s looking up the clouds and dreaming big. And, sometimes it’s just looking at something everyday in a slightly new way.

Innovation is a collective process that cannot be accomplished alone. So share your ideas!

“Wall Street is…


“Wall Street is the only place that people ride to in a Rolls Royce to get advice from those who take the subway” – Warren Buffet

Funny and sad at the same time, now I understand why the world’s economy is where it is!

Entrepreneurial lessons from Mark Zuckerberg

Bring up Mark Zuckerberg in conversation and you’ll hear a narrow range of conversational topics. People discuss his young age, wealth, Facebook’s early days, or his clothing choices. But what gets lost is his entrepreneurial abilities. Zuckerberg is a great CEO. He successfully made the transition from startup CEO to corporate CEO.

He didn’t do it without errors. Many have documented Zuckerberg’s mistakes. But what young CEO doesn’t make mistakes? It’s an important part of the job. Zuckerberg himself is quite honest about his slip ups and seems to embrace them.

Listen to Zuckerberg discuss the early days of Facebook, and you’ll hear him say that he knew he wanted to get into tech startups, but he never thought it was going to be Facebook. He figured a social network would be built by a big, multi-billion dollar tech corporation, not him. Now, nine years after Facebook’s launch, it has become its own multi-billion dollar empire. Facebook has done a lot of things right. It scaled well (unlike Friendster), has a great UI (user interface) (unlike MySpace), and always has been iterating, a trademark of many top companies.

There are a few things we can learn from Zuckerberg and his relatively short stint as CEO. Let’s look at what drives Zuckerberg and how his team at Facebook is changing the world for the better.

Businesses Need to Have a Higher Purpose

Facebook was never meant to be a company. In fact, in his letter to shareholders it’s the first thing Zuckerberg writes:

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission – to make the world more open and connected.”

He says at a later talk:

“I feel like it’s really hard to decide to start a company. [I didn’t start] Facebook to start a company, I started it because I really wanted this thing personally and I believed that it should exist globally although I wasn’t quite sure if we would be able to play a role in doing that. It was just mostly through wanting to build it and having it be this hobby and getting people around me excited that it kind of eventually evolved into and got the momentum to become a company.”

In a May 2012 interview with Forbes, Zuckerberg says:

“I often say inside the company that my goal was never to just create a company. A lot of people have been misinterpreting that as if I don’t care about revenue or profit or any of those things,” he continued. “That’s not actually it at all. You need to do those things to succeed in any meaningful way. Building a good economic engine is what allows all these other platform companies and advertisers and other partners to exist, and be a part of this ecosystem. Ultimately what not being just a company means to me, is just not being just that—building something that actually makes a really big change in the world.”

According to Zuckerberg, “Building a mission and building a business go hand in hand.” As stated, the mission of Facebook is to make the world more open and connected. This mission, of consumers having closer relationships with businesses, musicians, etc., and forming connections with others is why Facebook exists. The business aspect of Facebook is to serve advertisements to people who are interested and expose them to brands that may appeal to them. Thus, people connect and meet new people and businesses on Facebook. Facebook’s mission and business truly do go hand in hand.

Move Fast and Break Things

Zuckerberg says in his letter to shareholders:

“Moving fast enables us to build more things and learn faster. However, as most companies grow, they slow down too much because they’re more afraid of making mistakes than they are of losing opportunities by moving too slowly. We have a saying: “Move fast and break things.” The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.”

“Move fast and break things” is a motto that Facebook has become known for. Like Zuckerberg states, it means that if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t moving fast enough. He elaborates at Startup School:

“Most companies mess up by moving too slowly and trying to be too precise. When you’re…moving quickly or doing anything like this you want to make mistakes evenly on both sides. We wanted to set up a culture so that we were equally messing up by moving too quickly and by moving too slowly some of the time. So that way, we’d know that we were in the middle.”

What some people initially perceived as mistakes have turned into successes for Facebook. For instance, when the new News Feed launched, featuring top stories organized by the Edgerank algorithm, users became outraged. Facebook Groups were started demanding “Bring Back News Feed.” Eventually, Facebook found a happy medium for users when they made it possible for users to see their old news feed, while also keeping the new News Feed.

Another instance where Facebook upset many users was the integration of Timeline into user profiles. The first impression of Timeline was overwhelmingly negative for many users. In fact, they didn’t like being forced into using Timeline so much that a verb, Timelined, was born. Eventually, the user screams faded and everyone is adapting to Timeline.

These events aren’t unusual for Facebook. They consistently tick off their users, but in the end, the new feature turns out to be for the better. Some users are against product iteration, but iteration is what keeps Facebook modern and ahead of competitors. It’s also quite difficult to keep 800+ million people happy at all times.

There are many other things Facebook users have rebelled against. It’s a love-hate relationship. But after all is said and done, users ultimately find themselves not migrating to any other service. What all these user frustrations with Facebook have taught us is that users aren’t very good at predicting what they like at first sight.

The key with mistakes is distinguishing between the “false positive” mistakes and the real mistakes. For instance, Timeline would appear to be a “false positive” mistake, meaning that it appeared to be a huge mistake at first, but ultimately turned out to be a success. Then there are the real mistakes, like Beacon.

Ultimately, as Zuckerberg has pointed out, people won’t remember the mistakes years from now. They’ll remember the value that you provided.

Don’t be Afraid to Take Risks

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”

– Mark Zuckerberg

If you want to move fast and break things, you cannot shy away from risk. The biggest mistake you can make is not making any mistakes. As Zuckerberg says:

“In a world that’s changing really quickly the only strategy where you’re guaranteed to fail is not taking any risk and not changing anything.”

We’ve discussed some of the risks and mistakes that Facebook has made. There are countless other companies that have taken risks, some of which paid off and others that did not.

Google Buzz was a risk because social is not a core competence of Google. There were many similar solutions being offered at the time, and consumers didn’t adopt Buzz. It was a risk, and it didn’t pay off. Google Wave was a risk, too; because, while the concept may have been good, the product was complicated and difficult to explain. Those two projects took a lot of engineering hours, but it’s fair to say that Google learned from them.

One of the biggest risks taken by a major US corporation was Coca-Cola’s introduction of New Coke. Amid a shrinking market share, Coca-Cola introduced “New Coke.” Consumers didn’t like it and were vocal about their displeasure. That was a big risk for Coke – changing the formula for their top selling product. It’s a risk that didn’t pay off, but Coke has rebounded since then. They’ve eliminated “New Coke” and brought back “Classic Coke.”

Gmail was a risk for Google. Offering 1GB isn’t a big deal when you take into consideration how much cheaper storage space has gotten from just a decade ago. A new mail interface that broke away from conventional email interfaces was a risk. It caught people off guard – Google offering a mail program. It’s fair to say that this risk has paid off. Today, Gmail is the most widely used email provider.

Amazon is a company known for its risks. It is constantly experimenting and inventing, unafraid to fail. One big risk for them was letting other merchants sell through Amazon. It would allow a merchant to undercut Amazon’s price, which would lead to fewer sales for Amazon.

(article by Z.Bulygo)

“Money is the m…


“Money is the most social of all things because its inherent quality is that of a conventional symbol, an agreement among people for exchange” – M. Csikszentmihalyi