Science Shows Entrepreneurs Shouldn’t Fear Lack of Opportunities
As with Samsung, the Corridor Principle will keep your opportunity reservoir full
Opportunities are bread for entrepreneurs — without them, we starve. Just like survival instincts make you worry about food, your business flair fears the absence of clients, gigs, and sales.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, that same flair can backfire on you.
Your aversion to lack of opportunities can make you forget that your job isn’t to wait for opportunities to show up — Your job is to create them. Rather, your job is to create just one.
“What do you mean by just one, Nabil?” Opportunities breed opportunities.
Imagine yourself standing in front of a red door double your height. A big drop of cold sweat runs from your forehead all the way down to your chin before leaving your face. As you hear the sweat drop crash on the wooden floor, you turn the door handle — click.
Surprisingly, the giant red door slides wide open effortlessly. Now, you see a dark corridor stretching beyond your sight. It’s too late to turn around, so you take your first step forward. Then a second, and a third. You keep advancing, and with each step you take, a new door reveals itself from the blurry walls. Each door has a different color. Each door leads to a new possibility — a new opportunity.
These new opportunities became visible only because you chose to open the first giant red door. The latter represents the first opportunity you’d seized.
This is not a metaphor. It’s a description of a scientific concept.
Enter the Business Corridor and Opportunity Doors Will Appear
Professor Robert Ronstadt woke up one day with a bold idea in mind. As he walked to Babson College, he decided to run the longest experiment of his life. For the following twelve years, Ronstadt would track the unfolding of his students’ entrepreneurship journeys. His goal? Uncover the magic success formula.
In 1988, Ronstadt published a paper describing a new concept:
“The Corridor Principle states that the mere act of starting a venture enables entrepreneurs to see other venture opportunities they could neither see nor take advantage of until they had started their initial venture.”
In other words, the act of engaging in an entrepreneurial journey is like walking down a corridor. The latter reveals its doors only as you traverse it. Samsung’s story is a perfect example.
In 1938, Lee Byung-Chull started Samsung as a trading store where he exported Korean noodles to China. Over the years, Lee’s small business revealed to him the potential of trading overseas. Lee thought of exporting new products — products more profitable than rapidly-expiring food.
Before he could execute his ambitious plan, Lee and the rest of Korea took a heavy blow. The Korean war stroke hard, killing not only 2.5 million people but also the economy.
Against all odds, Lee took profit from the gloomy situation to propel his business. With limited human resources, the entrepreneur decided to replicate what his Chinese trading partners have been doing. Lee bet on industrialization and a product easier to manipulate and store in large quantities. Samsung started to produce and export textile.
With financial help and protectionist policies from the government, Samsung gained momentum — and seduced new partners willing to share Lee’s ambition to explore new territories.
From there, Samsung ventured into construction, chemicals, and electronics — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Had Lee dropped his noodle business or gave up on his expansion plans, you wouldn’t be reading Samsung’s story right now; a story that carries on with the same momentum.
To this day, Lee’s mindset lives in the company he founded, in particular through his son:
“Samsung’s future hinges on new businesses, new products and new technologies. We should make our corporate culture more open, flexible and innovative.” Lee Kun-hee
Like his father, Lee the son understood that venturing into new business corridors is the key to spotting success doors. Samsung knows that with every opportunity comes another — all you need is to trigger the first.
Now, how can we replicate the same pattern?
Start Before You’re Ready
In his research paper, Ronstadt boiled down his Corridor Principle to one verb: “launch.”
Looking at Samsung bouncing from noodles to textile, then skyrocketing with electronics, it’s easy to imagine that the Corridor Principle works only when you venture into new businesses. In reality, the concept covers more than that.
Ronstadt’s Corridor is highly relatable to the causality principle. In a nutshell, causality means: everything has a cause. Put another way: everything you do causes something to happen — say, a conversation with your Chinese trading partner inspires you to build an industrialized woolen mill. The latter becomes the biggest in Korea and booms Samsung’s numbers and popularity.
In this context, walking down the corridor implies a succession of actions and opportunities — each one provoking the next.
Illustration created by the author
That’s why successful entrepreneurs like Richard Brandson stress the importance of starting. “Screw it, just get on and do it,” he said. In other words, start before you’re ready.
Now, this is obviously easier said than done — especially when you have a four-billion-dollar safety net like Brandson’s.
We, grounded entrepreneurs, need to be slightly more cautious. Here are three tips that’ll help you walk through the opportunity corridor and see its hidden doors:
1. Pay Attention to What’s Happening Around You
On top of internal factors (you and your partners), your business depends on external ones. Keep yourself up to date with both local and international news and markets — they may inspire your first or next move.
For instance, Warren Buffet starts his day by reading local news. Bill Gates scans a daily news digest — steal their tricks.
If you have no idea what to pick, try Bloomberg’s Five Things to Know to Start Your Day.
2. Share Your Business Ideas With Your Peers
You never know when a stroke of genius or partnership can emerge. Sharing your thoughts and progress will help you clarify them for yourself. Not to mention, it can also trigger new opportunities.
Elon Musk is close friends with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The three of them discuss ideas and support each other’s businesses. In particular, Page and Brin helped Musk during a crisis back in 2008.
The idea isn’t to befriend billionaires. It’s to surround yourself with like-minded people with whom you can grow. Pick your phone, scroll down your contact list and send a message — open a new door for opportunities.
3. Question Your Concept Regularly
Remember, the Corridor Principle is about provoking opportunities. When you question your current products and ideas, not only do you make room for improvement, but you also trigger new possibilities.
Whatsapp started as an app that shows the status of its users — nothing more, nothing less. Through self-reflection and external observations, founder Jan Koum saw a new opportunity of turning it into a messaging platform. From there, Whatsapp boomed and sold for $19.3 billion.
Grab a piece of paper, split it into two columns. In the first, list your current products or recent content. In the second column, write one critic per item. You’ll likely end up with more growth ideas and opportunities that you can execute.
Entrepreneurship is an infinite race where there is no finish line — only milestones. Your car is your business, and your fuel is opportunities. The road is too foggy to be predictable, and the only way to see what lies ahead is to move forward.
Though I can’t tell you what awaits you down the next turn, I can tell you that once you start your engine, you’ll never run out of fuel. The Corridor Principle will keep your reservoir full as long as you:
- Pay attention to your environment.
- Surround yourself with people who also want to grow.
- Question your ideas and that of others — including this article.
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