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Why entrepreneurs should learn to think more like engineers


On Bloomberg Businessweek, Karen E. Klein examines entrepreneur Sasha Gurke's advice on keeping a business thriving – the overall theme of which is: think like an engineer.

As Klein explains, Gurke has been on been on both sides of the start-up equation. He trained as a chemical engineer in his native Russia before emigrating to the US, working for the American Chemical Society and then moving into entrepreneurship as co-founder and senior vice-president of Knovel, a company with 70 employees and nearly $30 million in revenue.

Although technicians are usually urged to think more like entrepreneurs, Gurke reverses the advice. He tells Klein that there are four skills that entrepreneurs should borrow from the engineer's toolbox, explained below:

1) Analyse customer feedback. Entrepreneurs often start companies to solve problems they have encountered in their careers but as the organisation grows they "lose touch and must regroup".

Gurke tells Klein: "At a certain point, you must stop relying on your internal expertise and bring in others. And you must learn from the customers you serve." However, he also warns against focusing too much on those who shout the loudest, explaining: "Power users want everything in the world, but they are not the majority of your customers."

2) Calculate risk. Although risk-taking is necessary, consider the repercussions before you commit yourself.
Gurke advises: "Take in all the information, study it, learn how much money and effort is required to realise this."

3) Keep up with technology. Entrepreneurs aren't always savvy with the latest technological developments so they rely on the advice of others. Instead, they should strive to gain a rudimentary understanding of the products and perform cost and risk analyses. Be wary of blindly following every technology trend.

4) Keep it simple. Engineers recognise the value of a design that isn't so complex that it is difficult to use and prone to breakage, and Gurke insists the same applies to entrepreneurship.

He says: "Be sure to know when enough is enough. If you have initial success, it's hard for an entrepreneur to stop and assess."

Think Like An Engineer
Karen E. Klein
Bloomberg Businessweek