Working in academia requires dexterity. Of course, there are overall goals, but the most important thing is to keep an open mind, check your biases, and not be afraid to try new things in the process of achieving your goals.
Amazon attributes its great success to this willingness to linger. Its CEO Jeff Bezos said: "Wandering is an important balance of efficiency. "You need to use both at the same time. Oversized discoveries-"non-linear" discoveries-are likely to need to linger. "In other words, to make a real breakthrough, it is important not to be too attached to a specific path, idea, or result.
Wandering is also essential for the innovation of startups. In fact, there are many similarities between working in academia and working in startups: they both tend to attract curious people, which requires a lot of trial and error, and the work done may ultimately change our world.
At this time next year, I will be a professor at a major university for 20 years. In my teaching career, I have learned some key courses that are helpful to me as the chief scientist of ScaleFlux, a computing and storage startup.
Acknowledge and appreciate people's differences
As a professor, I have witnessed many different ways of learning. Some students grasp new concepts immediately, while others need more time to process information. Everyone learns differently. Just because a person doesn't master something right away, doesn't mean they won't surprise you in the future.
Related: Amazon's unstoppable rise
The same is true for employees studying and working in start-up companies. Acknowledging (and even celebrating!) people's differences leads to better business results and a happier workforce. Pioneer companies such as SAP, HPE, and Microsoft have recently emphasized the search for neurodiversity talents because of the value that this diversity brings to their teams
In a startup, the process of turning something from a concept into a work product can be long and arduous. As a leader, a little patience and understanding can go a long way.
Let them do their thing
When my students entered the third or fourth year of the PhD program, they really started to make great strides in independent thinking and innovation. As a professor and leader of a startup company, I cannot overstate the importance of not over-managing people. Both students and employees need space to think, explore, and draw their own conclusions.
For some leaders, this can sometimes be a lesson in humility. Just because someone holds a senior position does not mean that their students can teach them not much. I once assigned a task to one of my former students, and frankly, I don't know how to complete it. They quickly started working, figured it out for themselves, and actually taught me in the end. When left to their own equipment, people become very innovative.
Get rid of your bubbles
In academia, there may be a tendency to fall into a research bubble. People fall into the routine of conducting research and publishing papers, and rarely consider the actual relevance of what they are researching (which is why I keep changing my areas of focus).
It's easy to continue the same cycle in startups. If you live and breathe your products, there is very little time to leave your comfort zone. In order to solve this problem, it is essential to be curious and conduct independent and continuous research outside of specific projects. Interact with people in different spaces and ask them what they are doing; read research papers on topics different from your usual focus; diversify your personal interests and hobbies. Expanding your business can inspire new ideas and keep you moving forward.
Don't complicate things
Sometimes, startups will encounter overly complex problems. The same is true for academia, where well-designed and complex research projects are commonplace. In startups, it’s important to delve into the specific problem you are trying to solve to create an effective and streamlined product.
Being ambitious is great, but it’s also important to keep your ideas simple so that you can execute them in an organized and timely manner. In my current role in a startup, I have always emphasized the focus on simple ideas, which allows us to innovate quickly.
As I continue my career as a professor and IT leader, there is no doubt that more courses will be required in the process. Being curious and open-minded can help myself and others—regardless of role—to remain open to new experiences and opportunities.