5 skills entrepreneurs can learn from engineers

(Editor’s note: Sasha Gurke is senior vice president & co-founder of Knovel. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

Engineers have a long history of being innovators.  They bridge the gap between modern science and the advantages we as consumers reap from their creations.  Alfred Hitchcock, Henry Ford, Herbert Hoover, Neil Armstrong and Leonardo da Vinci – to name a few – all have a background in engineering.

Entrepreneurs, similarly, are known for their innovative, out-of-the-box thinking.  Their knack to lead by example and deliver results is ultimately what makes them successful.  And while it might seem that the two fields couldn’t be much further apart, they’re actually not as different as you might think.

They’re both highly innovative and goal-oriented and both seek reward in the form of professional and financial gain.  As a trained Chemist and Process Engineer who later ventured into entrepreneurship, I believe there are certain skills entrepreneurs can learn from an engineer.  Here are five skills entrepreneurs should borrow from the engineer’s toolbox:

Know how to sell your vision. – Understand your audience and be sure to listen.  Explain your vision in a manner understood by the audience.  Adapting your communication style to help others realize your vision is imperative.  Talking to a technical team is different than talking to senior management.  Shift ownership of your proposed solution to “buyers” in order to build consensus.  Make sure your vision is well-thought, concise and makes sense.  Be prepared with answers in advance particularly related to cost, finance and business benefits.

Keep things simple. – Engineers often say the best design is often the simplest.  The more complex a product becomes, the more difficult it is to use and the more prone it is to breakage.

This principal also applies to business.  Sometimes, bells and whistles can be overkill.  Remember what helped you achieve initial success.  As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to forget this, because it’s in our nature to consider how a product can be improved or build upon.

Learn from your customers. – Entrepreneurs often start companies that solve problems they experienced in their own careers.  But as their businesses grow, they move further away from these problems and must regularly evaluate the service to see if they’re still delivering what made them a success originally.

The time will come when you can no longer rely on your internal expertise. The customers become the teachers – and, in many ways, the spark of inspiration. Develop a process for soliciting customer feedback, understanding it and continue to probe for more information.  Learning about their needs is an important part of the product development process.

Calculate risk. – Begin with deep analysis of the problem.  Identify a root cause and an economical solution.  Take in all the information, study it and consider how much money and effort is required to realize your vision.

Leverage available technology.  – As a business owner, it’s essential to have a rudimentary understanding of the technology products that are vital to your industry.  Leverage what is proven and makes sense.  Being up-to-date on the latest technology is important, but be sure you understand the trends and any associated risks before making an investment.  Be analytical about your choices and avoid jumping on technological bandwagons.

Technology has the ability to give you a competitive advantage in business; but only if it’s leveraged properly.  Make sure there is a cost advantage to adoption, and focus on innovative ways to leverage the capabilities of the technology.  Remember, Van Gough used the same paint as other artists, but he applied it differently.

About the Author: Sasha Gurke is Senior Vice President and co-founder of Knovel.  He has more than 25 years of experience in the technical information field.  A trained Chemist and Process Engineer, with years of industrial and lab experience, Sasha contributes to Knovel’s success by integrating real-world solutions into the workplace.