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Three things I learned in seven days at Babson College

Tadas Labudis is founder of Prodsight an AI-powered customer insight platform that helps companies improve their product and customer experience. He was among a cohort of Unlocking Ambition ambassadors who visited world-leading entrepreneurship school Babson College in Boston last month to develop new skills and build international connections. Here, he shares his key takeaways from the trip.

I was extremely lucky to be part of a group of 21 entrepreneurs from Scotland who got sent to an intensive 7-day leadership course at the Babson College in Boston. The idea was to take everyone out of their comfort zone and encourage them to rethink how their businesses can be run better.

The program was top-notch. Babson is constantly rated #1 for entrepreneurship and the faculty are all ex-operators with decades of experience in starting, running and selling companies.

There were three themes that stuck with me as I think about taking my startup Prodsight to the next stage so I decided to share them in this short post.

Some of the Scottish cohort

1. Biases will literally kill you

In a session on decision-making led by Dwight Gertz, we talked about how various psychological fallacies or biases get in the way of us making good decisions.

I was already aware of several biases (e.g. confirmation, recency) as that’s what we help teams overcome with Prodsight by turning “mushy” qualitative customer feedback into quantitive trends.

However, what stuck with me is a case study of the Tenerife airport disaster. While taking off KLM flight 4805 collided with Pan Am flight 1739 halfway down the runway, killing 583 people. The KLM captain was Jacob Van Zanten, KLM’s chief flight instructor who had just returned from a six-month safety course. It was concluded the pilot took off without clearance, thereby causing the crash. But why?

Biases like loss aversion (our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid possible losses), value attribution (our inclination to imbue a person or thing with certain qualities based on initial perceived value), and the diagnosis bias (our blindness to all evidence that contradicts our initial assessment of a person or situation) are believed to be the main contributors.

We can’t avoid the effect of bias altogether as these processes often work at the subconscious level, but by being aware of the full range of psychological fallacies and by fact-checking important decisions we can increase our chances of success.

2. Focus, focus, focus

Another lesson that stuck with me is the importance of staying focused.

If you hold a magnifying glass over a pile of dry leaves on a hot day, nothing will happen as long as you keep moving the magnifying class. But as soon as you hold the magnifying glass still and focus the rays of the sun on just one leaf, the whole pile of leaves will erupt into flames.

In the early days of a new venture, it can be very tempting to pursue a range of different opportunities at the same time to see “what sticks” because you don’t have the historical data to determine which idea is the most worthwhile. The challenge is that at that stage you also have incredibly limited resources which leaves even less room for error. The longer you spend spreading your bets, the lower the chance of success as none of the opportunities get the attention they deserve.

One approach to improve the chances of success early on is to methodically experiment with a small number of ideas to gain data and conviction and then ruthlessly prioritize which one to pursue with full resources. Obviously, it’s easier said than done.

3. Why should people invest in you?

Another key message that was per-mutating across all the sessions was the idea that you should be comfortable selling yourself. You must be able to quickly and succinctly articulate what about you makes you deserving of the investment of time and money from other people over anyone else.

This is one is personally hard for me as I’m hard-wired to think “talking about yourself = bragging”. I grew up in an environment where bragging and being full of yourself were frowned upon and modesty was encouraged and respected.

However, as long as you stick to facts (achievements attained, skills gained, relationships built) and stay away from opinion (your view of why you’re the greatest) it is not bragging. It’s something that I’m working on to internalize.

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Overall, it was an amazing experience to learn from experienced lecturers and other entrepreneurs in the cohort and I’d love to do a longer course at Babson someday. I’d like to thank the good folks at the Scottish Enterprise, Unlocking Ambition and Entrepreneurial Scotland for this amazing opportunity.

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