Blog: Brian Tolle

In Ann Arbor it's all about entrepreneurship and innovation. But do you have what it takes to flourish in the new economy? Consultant Brian Tolle has made a successful career out of coaching local start-ups and companies. He'll be blogging about the methods and mindset necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Brian Tolle - Post 2: Start Behaving…Like An Innovative Entrepreneur

In yesterday’s blog I talked about research that has shown innovative entrepreneurs differ from executives on four behavioral patterns they use to acquire information.

Let’s see where you fall on the range from “innovative entrepreneur” to “manager,” using the words of the researchers and my perspective.


Innovative entrepreneurs were more likely to ask questions that challenged the status quo, whereas the questions asked by managers were much more about understanding how to make existing processes work a little better.

Where would you put yourself on this continuum?

questions status quo                                                                                      questions processes

Try focusing on being curious for an entire week. Practice asking questions in a low-key manner to get the other person talking more than you. A simple “why is that?” can surface whole new insights. You’ll rarely discover opportunities if you do most of the talking.


Compared to managers in large organizations, innovative entrepreneurs more frequently engage in active observation, primarily of consumers and end users.

Where would you put yourself on this continuum?

observe behavior                                                                                       experts as source of insights

Put your Blackberry or iPhone down and start paying attention. Who does what and why? What situations seem to be more complicated than they need to be? Where do people seem dissatisfied or frustrated with their current options? Here’s what Scott Cook (founder and CEO of Intuit) shared with the researchers:

So one thing that I teach is when people go out and watch people work, then come back and ask just one question – What’s different than you expected? – that often generates surprising responses.


Compared to managers in large organizations, innovative entrepreneurs more frequently experiment and explore, particularly doing so with a hypothesis testing mindset.

Where would you put yourself on this continuum?

test hypotheses through experimentation                              experiments viewed as costly and distracting

Can you find ways to inexpensively “try things out?” Remember you can test your hypothesis either with your hands or your head.  Expose yourself to different points of view to test out your idea; tinker with building a prototype; pay attention to what you learn as you experiment; repeat the cycle of hypothesize, test, observe, reflect, re-hypothesize.

Idea Networking

Executives were more likely to network to further their careers, to sell what they or their current company had to offer, or to build friendships with people who possessed desired resources. Innovative entrepreneurs were less likely to use networks primarily for friendships or career progression; rather, they were actively creating networks of people with diverse ideas and perspectives that they could tap into for new ideas and insights.

Where would you put yourself on this continuum?

networking as exploration                                                                      networking as profit

Most people are a lot more interesting than they first appear to be. But it takes a sense of exploration, curiosity, and wonderment to make it happen. Try this out – purposely attend a professional event where the topic has nothing to do with your area of expertise. Come with a decent excuse for being there or bring “a native” along as your chaperone. But definitely come with the mindset of “let me see what I can learn about this line of work and the people who do it.”

So how did you do? To what extent do you engage in these behaviors that increase the likelihood that you will spot opportunities for innovative products or services? What’s in it for you to begin to incorporate these behaviors in your work habits? What barriers are in your way? This research shows that you too can learn to be an innovative entrepreneur. Agree? Disagree? Can’t wait to hear from you.

Tomorrow…spotting the big picture opportunities for innovation.