#GoDo and beyond - "entrepreneurial" vs. "academic" mindset?

Dominik Czaplicki from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow spent a few months with us this summer learning about how young companies are supported in the UK with a particular emphasis on the business/ academic interface.  He spent some time with a variety of different businesses.  Here are some of his reflections:


Being a Polish researcher in life science I’ve been recently exposed to an array of Scottish entrepreneurs and companies, most of which quite followed the “go do” approach to their business. To me, this was admirable; with rather different concepts of timeframes, costs and milestones in the academic world, I was inspired by daring attitude to risks and challenges, as well as impressed with how quickly things were getting done. This mindset seems to be essential for all successful ventures, while it is quite rare among university researchers. More differences become evident when looking into this: rather than seeing uncertainty as opportunity, we in academia tend to focus on exploring areas and mastering tools in which we have previous experience and reasonably deep knowledge. Also, the emphasis is on the process (studying, experimenting, progressing) much more than on the outcomes (results, solutions, impact).

This “mindset incompatibility” between academic and business environments has often been blamed for communication difficulties that allegedly limit ways of collaboration and simply hinder innovation. Some misunderstandings may arise even from the different concepts of “value” itself. Precise answers may be essential for science, but time to get them can be far beyond expectations of the business. A common opinion seems to be that “at a university, you can’t get things done quickly – but you can easily get them done costly.”

While all this may well be true in many cases, the business mindset has its own shadows. Impatience is just one of them; even as the concept of business planning has evolved from lengthy volumes to brief “action plans”, some entrepreneurs may seem to be jumping head over heels with more “action” than “plan” in their business. Also limited time is taken to gather and analyse crucial information, with abundance of data sources only adding to the pressure to “go do it” rather than “go read about it”. On the other hand, the notions to “stay focused” on the execution and to “fail quickly, fail cheap” may lead to abandoning business ideas before their full potential has even started to arise.

My recent experience from Scotland suggests that the two mindsets in fact could and should complement each other. Sharing different perspectives can yield valuable fruit quickly; a fresh pair of eyes will be useful to challenge internal plans and assumptions, to analyse the landscape around the business and to recognise opportunities that might have been overlooked or underestimated. The business benefits are there, both in terms of tactics and strategy, even if it has to take time and effort to search for data, analyse information, process documents and, last but not least, talk all this over.

There is much less risk and much more opportunity in that than it may seem.

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