By Mina Chang
Being an entrepreneur isn't just about spotting the next big opportunity. You need to be able to initiate a variety of approaches in response. Once an approach becomes successful, however, you run the risk of growing stagnant and missing the next big thing because your focus is consumed by what works.
Failed attempts can be discouraging, but the only true failure is letting those setbacks prevent you from getting back into a market and trying again with a new approach. Entrepreneurs know change is inevitable. After all, responding to change in innovative ways is the key to continued success, and looking for ways to tap into promising trends on the horizon is the best way to grow a company.
At our company, we focus on adapting and responding to change. We work with people in vulnerable regions to provide emergency relief in times of crisis. Our experience in disaster response -- and our knowledge of the relative futility of reactive approaches -- drove us to think outside the box when creating our new strategy, especially with regard to technological innovations that could be deployed.
Finding Ways to Innovate
Simply taking the step to consider the “what if” of any given situation triggered a thought process that led to our new paradigm. Instead of sticking to the humanitarian norm of rushing to send aid after a natural disaster or an attack by extremists, what if we were able to identify vulnerable communities before violent extremist groups were able to secure a strong foothold? What if we devoted resources to caring for the causes of that vulnerability before desperate civilians saw violence as the only alternative? And what if we could use data analytics to quantify the effectiveness of programs and refine them to maximize outcomes?
In response to these “what if” questions, we are now leading the humanitarian relief industry, utilizing big data to revolutionize the way aid is given. We analyze data from numerous sources, including social media, to identify communities around the world that might be susceptible to violent extremist recruiting tactics. We then develop and implement targeted solutions for these communities in an effort to halt the progress of these groups before they can take root.
Redeveloping our entire strategy wasn’t easy, but it was necessary to innovate our approach to address the changing situations we deal with worldwide. We were able to create this new strategy by focusing our energy on three main areas:
1. Address the elephant in the room.
Without proper perspective, seemingly obvious issues can be easy to overlook. In our case, it's clear that instability is increasing in many countries. Violent extremism around the world is growing. As risks around the world -- including the U.S. -- became clearer, we were able to identify the need for a different approach. It's obvious we need to go to the root of extremism and address problems before they emerge rather than simply respond to a crisis afterward.
While problems might not be literally life-or-death in every industry, sometimes the issue you need to solve is obvious. If a problem is consistent across your field of expertise, or if your clients are all expressing similar pain points, look for ways to address those issues.
2. Identify social trends that need addressing.
Look for emerging patterns that haven’t already been applied in product design or marketing. Well-established behavior might need sprucing up. Consider radical alternatives for norms that are no longer efficient. Social media, for example, has made the world accessible for people on opposite ends of the globe, but it can be used for more than just tweeting or sharing photos.
We realized we could use social media updates for more than just real-time connections. When compiled and analyzed, the information people post on social media provides valuable insights about the beginnings of violent extremism. This created an opportunity for us to tailor preventative measures that address the vulnerability and instability of communities, providing effective ways to reduce or even eradicate those instabilities and dampen the risks.
3. Look outside your industry.
Once you’ve identified the problem requiring an innovative solution, that solution might be hard to find. Consider the processes and methods of similar industries as a means of triggering creative approaches for your own startup.
When developing our data-driven approach to violent extremism, we knew that simply combing through social media posts would not eradicate radicalism. By studying organizations doing similar work, we have been able to capitalize on this information while bolstering it with analytics from numerous databases. Leveraging this big data will enable us to maximize the impact of our preventative measures.
Entrepreneurs know how to be creative and resilient to succeed, but sometimes that requires shifting strategies to keep up with changing industries. Instead of seeing failed patterns as a death sentence for a business, find ways to innovate and keep your business at the top of its game.
Mina Chang is the CEO at Linking the World, building resilient communities in areas of conflict and instability.