Mind the gap

Experiences in your day-to-day life can lead to thinking about things that could be changed. Before you know it, you could have an idea that you want to bring to life that can translate into a successful business.

Mind the gap by Nancy Knowlton

A number of years ago I traveled to London with Nancy Macnab, the CFO of SMART Technologies. Upon arrival, we had a shower, gulped down a quick coffee and had a bite to eat at the Air Canada arrivals lounge before heading to the Tube. Traveling to London from Calgary is always an overnight affair, and unless a person is really lucky, those nighttime flights mean a fitful sleep. We both had slept inadequately as we headed into London for our full day of meetings, and no amount of coffee could mask the tired feeling we felt.

Calling for change

As soon as the Tube came above ground at each stop we heard the same warning, “Mind the gap.” After we had heard this for perhaps the third time, Nancy said in a monotone voice, “Why don’t they just fix the gap?” She continued to stare forward, a tired look on her face.

It strikes me that many things in life are left unfixed just like the gap. A myriad of excuses may be used to cover or explain, but it is always to the same effect – do nothing and leave the status quo. There is perhaps a certain immunity to the gap warning – hear it enough times and it fades into the background. Hear it for the first, second, third time and it is the clarion horn blaring out that the gap needs to be fixed – at least to some.

Changing the world

Entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors hear the call to fix the gap. They are the ones to see the opportunity where others would hear only a warning. They think of new products and new processes. They think about big things – things that will change the world. They think about little things that by themselves seem trivial and mundane.

Bringing ideas to fruition

On many occasions Dave and I have been told that others had the same idea that we had for the SMART Board interactive whiteboard. My question has always been the same – “And what did you do about that idea?” Of course, the answer was nothing, because we created and introduced the world’s first interactive whiteboard at SMART Technologies. It is one thing to have an idea, but it is quite another to do something about it. Ideas have a shelf life, a best-before date. People globally are looking for ideas that they can translate into new businesses. Ideas don’t stay at home these days, either. They can go global quickly particularly if they are apps.

So how can you become an entrepreneur and start up a business or introduce a new idea? Get an idea and play with it. Think about how to make it work. Think of the whole business plan – customer need, product or solution, suppliers, distribution channel, alliances, technologies, skills. Get the idea down on paper and spend some time refining it and thinking through the weaknesses and strengths. Then talk to your friends, family or colleagues about it. Have them attack and support your idea. You’ll gain strength and experience from working the idea. Even if you don’t move forward with it, there’s value in mentally committing to a business idea and working on it. Kill the idea if you have to, then work on something else just as diligently.

A first idea likely won’t be your best idea. The key in the whole process is to get a lot of ideas. Look for the gaps and imagine ways to fix them. Start small with ideas that can be easily implemented. Build your confidence and grow from there.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.