Jim Collins, the bestselling author and renowned student of business leadership, has observed that all creative and entrepreneurial endeavors require “the precision of a scientist and the wonder of a child.”9 Successful entrepreneurs and investors tend to have ravenous appetites for new knowledge and are persistently curious about what newly discovered data might mean. They crave objective sources of information, but are curious, too, about the subjective opinions of other people—their customers, investors, and team members—especially when these opinions clash with their own. Instead of shrinking back or tuning out when faced with a differing point of view, the curious entrepreneur leans forward and invites the speaker to elaborate. Their intellectual posture is not one of knowing, but of questioning: What am I missing? What does this person see or understand that I don't? What do these data suggest about the path forward? The insatiable nature of this brand of curiosity means that the entrepreneurial learning curve never ends. The more one learns, the greater the appetite to learn more. Malcolm S. Forbes, longtime publisher of Forbes magazine, could have been talking about entrepreneurial curiosity when he said, “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.”10
But founders who have fallen in love with an idea are usually looking for assurance instead of illumination. In his well-circulated list, 17 Mistakes Startups Make, John Osher, seasoned entrepreneur and creator of hundreds of consumer products, highlights a root cause of startup derailment: Seeking confirmation of your actions rather than seeking the truth. “You want to do something,” he says, “so you talk to people who work for you. You talk to family and friends. But you’re only looking for confirmation: You’re not looking for the truth. You’re looking for somebody to tell you you’re right.”11
As we saw in Chapter One, most aspiring entrepreneurs collect affirmations like a teenager collects text messages. Constructive, sugar-free criticism is hard to find, even when you crave it, so if you’re looking for validation instead, you will certainly find it. And when you finally encounter the rare, no-holds-barred critique of your idea, you might bristle and defend against it, rather than openly consider its meaning.
Lynn Ivey looks back at her early planning for The Ivey and remembers having little patience for people who raised concerns or pointed out risks to her plan. Because she was already locked into a path to construct a world-class facility, her focus was on evangelizing the concept and raising funds. She couldn’t fully contemplate the possibility that her model might have significant flaws. The train had left the station, so to speak, and she needed affirmation and positive ideas, not skepticism or debate.
In particular, she recalls how the former CEO of a major healthcare system told her he believed The Ivey would have trouble competing with the established in-home care services in the area. Looking back, Lynn wishes she had been more curious about his concerns and probed for more insight, but, at the time, she wrote him off as a somewhat combative curmudgeon, someone who didn’t understand her vision.