For the entrepreneurs who have held on to the dream of becoming an expert in their field, uncross those fingers and start wishing for a different miracle. As Naveen Jain, founder of inome and the World Innovation Institute, said, “The minute you become an expert in your field, you’re fundamentally useless in that field.”
Jain spoke at Harvard Business School’s 10th annual Entrepreneurship Conference yesterday. Hosted by the HBS Entrepreneurship Club, this year’s event focused on the life cycle of a startup—a cycle Jain claimed needs to start with an idea that’s disruptive.
“If you want to start a one billion dollar company, you need to solve a 10 billion dollar problem,” he admitted, later pointing to education as the prime example of a broken industry that needs innovation.
Jain compared the system to a conveyor belt, saying students are transferred down the line, from grade to grade, and are just expected to pick up and comprehend different subjects along the way. “The way we’re teaching them is wrong,” he claimed. Before, a student could learn a skill and apply it for decades. Now, skills have a five- to 10-year shelf life. Jain asked, “What if education adapted to your way of learning, instead of you having to adapt to education?”
As entrepreneurs begin to hone in on their ideas, Jain emphasizes the word “disruptive.” The problem with being an expert is that, every time you hear a problem, you only have one answer to that problem; you stop thinking disruptively.
Jain’s solution? “You don’t need to think outside the box. You just need to go and think inside a different box.”
Endeavor’s Co-Founder and CEO Linda Rottenberg can agree. “If you’re not called crazy, you’re probably not thinking big enough,” she said in a fireside chat with Harvard Business School Professor Bill Sahlman.
Since launching in 1997, Rottenberg’s non-profit has grown to help serve over 700 entrepreneurs in emerging markets across the country. She’s realized, “It’s not just techies with hoodies on in Silicon Valley who define entrepreneurship.”
Working with entrepreneurs from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, Rottenberg has noticed one consistency: “When the economy turns down, entrepreneurs look up.” Yet, as companies move through the motions, they can’t worry about “little failures.” Instead, they need to “stop planning, start doing,” and make sure everyone on their team stays on the same page along the way.
As companies continue to evolve and start to see success, they will, hopefully, start to find humility, as well. “The day you become humble is the day you become successful,” Jain said, claiming those who walk around bragging and “pounding their chest” are only doing it because they still have something to prove.
“Success doesn’t mean how much money you have in the bank,” Jain admitted. “It’s how many lives you can improve while you’re still alive.”
For a look at what others were saying, and snapping photos of, during yesterday’s Entrepreneurship Conference, check out the images below.