I’m primarily interested in the front end of the entrepreneurial process—how people come up with new ideas and the ways they validate and try to bring these ideas to market.
I came to this topic in 2005, when I was doing research on independent inventors, people who have regular jobs but are also developing innovations on the side. I looked at psychological factors that motivated their work and identified what I called “affective bias.”
I was already studying “cognitive bias,” the idea that people overestimate their knowledge and abilities and spend time and money developing products that never see the light of day.
But I was intrigued to discover that many inventors didn’t have cognitive bias as the literature described. Rather, they had affective bias: They were emotionally attached to their innovations. They would spend money, get divorced, run up credit-card debt—all to develop their ideas because they were passionate about them.
One of my early studies looked at affective bias in a team of engineering students to see whether it led to an irrational desire to control an idea. We found that if an innovator feels he needs to have control of an idea, he might not be rational in pursuing the idea and might make a lot of mistakes along the process. He might fear sharing ownership—both legal and psychological—and, therefore, might not accept the support of entrepreneurship resources that would help the startup to be successful.
And that’s a big problem with entrepreneurship. People don’t always pursue the resources they need. Rather than being open to outside resources, many entrepreneurs want to pursue their ideas on their own. Consequently, products wind up being slow to market and not having the best plan in place.
Entrepreneurship resources, however, can be a double- edged sword, as I’m discovering through my research on one of the country’s leading business accelerators.
Here we’re looking at the impact resources like mentors play on the progress and success of a company. What we’ve noticed is that because startups that are part of an accelerator are in competition with each other for prizes, you might find businesses that completely change their goals to win the competition. They’re trying to acquire customers, for example, before their product is ready. Or they might change a facet of the business in a way that’s not optimal.
So then the question is: Do acceleration programs have the potential to divert entrepreneurs’ attention from what they should focus on? This question is related to the problem of entrepreneurs’ bringing other people into their space. Because of cognitive bias, entrepreneurs may be less willing to have others participate in their business. But entrepreneurs willing to work with others might be steered away from their original goals in ways that are detrimental for their business. Imagine a butterfly being helped out of its chrysalis too soon and, as a consequence, emerging too underdeveloped to fly.
Thus far, I’ve been focused on the ways entrepreneurs validate their ideas and pursue them. In the future, I’d like to examine how entrepreneurs come up with ideas—how design thinking and problem solving can help identify viable entrepreneurial opportunities.
After all, not every idea is worth implementing.
Gordon K. Adomdza is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship and innovation in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. He is the faculty adviser for Northeastern’s student-run Entrepreneurs Club.