I’ve written and talked about the cultural differences between entrepreneurs and career researchers. Lately I’ve discovered a new one:
Scientists: Are afraid of making bad decisions. As a result, they are slow to make difficult decisions.
Entrepreneurs: Optimize around fast, not perfect, decision making with constant iteration.
Loyal readers know that I work with professors and career scientists and help them commercialize their work, often through the formation of a startup company. The professor’s role is as a founder of the startup, usually with an experienced entrepreneur or business person as a co-founder. Professor-founders should ensure there is a good alignment of incentives between themselves and the business people running the company and cede the business decisions to the business people. When professors insert themselves into operational decisions, they often find themselves completely out of their element.
The reason is that business is an art, not a science. You never have perfect information, you never have all the resources you need, and you never have enough time. But experienced business people understand that business these days is all about making quick decisions and iterating and adjusting. When things don’t work out, as they frequently don’t, you learn from the decision, fix what you can, and move on. This paradigm throws career scientists way outside their comfort zones. They respond to this discomfort by slowing everything down which often becomes a leading indicator for failure.