Entrepreneurs Think Differently

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Entrepreneurs think differently from other people. When technological changes make existing products obsolete, demographic and social changes alter attitudes, and political and regulatory changes adjust the playing field, most people complain. Entrepreneurs come up with solutions.

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) introduction of the backscatter scanner and enhanced airport pat downs is a case in point. John Tyner became the latest Internet celebrity for his response to the new security procedures – the “Don’t Touch My Junk”  –watch the video. Others opposed to the new rules sought to trigger a pre-Thanksgiving opt out to draw attention to the new measures. And the vast majority of Americans either grumbled their complaints or stoically accepted the latest indignity of air travel in the post 9/11 age.

Not so for entrepreneur Jeff Buske who saw a business opportunity in the introduction of the backscatter scanner. Buske invented a new kind of underwear. With parts made of tungsten that don’t trigger metal detectors, his product provides privacy to wearers by blocking the explicit images displayed on the new scanner.

The TSA might respond to Buske’s invention by requiring those wearing his underwear to go through enhanced pat downs, but that possibility doesn’t negate what he did. He responded to a market need that was opened up by a change in regulation – a concern about privacy generated by the better images on the TSA’s new machines – by offering a solution.

Academics like myself, study why some people, like Buske, come up with new business ideas in response to these changes, while other people don’t. What we’ve learned is that entrepreneurs think differently from other people. Rather than lamenting the problems created by technological, social, demographic, political and regulatory change, entrepreneurs view them as a good thing – they are the source of business opportunity.

Those who come up with new business ideas in response to these changes also seem to have a background – work or educational experience – that provides them with the necessary prior knowledge to think up a solution to the customer problem. In Buske’s case, his engineering background helped him to come up with the idea of putting tungsten in your underwear – not the first thing most of us thought of when faced with the experience of going through a backscatter scanner.

I don’t know if we will all be sitting around the airport googling on our iPhones in our part-tungsten underwear any time soon. Having the ability to see the potential for a entrepreneurial idea in situations that just gets others irritated doesn’t guarantee business success. But it does show a different way of thinking.

Scott Shane Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of nine books, including Fool's Gold: The Truth Behind Angel Investing in America ; Illusions of Entrepreneurship: and The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By.