So many of us have the “entrepreneurial itch” – that yearning to create something new, that inner voice that says, “I would love to start something on my own, to build a company from scratch, to create a business that will make a big difference.”

The hard part is identifying the right opportunity. And that identification is crucial. Of course, we would all like to have the perfect concept that no one has thought about before and is just what the market wants. But perhaps even more importantly, we need an idea that we truly and deeply believe in, as this belief will define the totality of our dedication – through thick and thin – which is so essential to the chances for success of a new venture.

This hungry hunt for the perfect business concept seems to haunt many of the business school students I have been meeting lately. In part, it is set up by some of the business school programs themselves, especially those that require coming up with a concept and developing and defending a business plan. Also, many students feel that their own startup is the ideal next career path upon graduation.

So what is the secret? What does it take to find the right opportunity? Which of your many great ideas is the right one?

The reality, in my experience: The process of finding an opportunity is slow and painful. But pain may be necessary before you really know you have uncovered the right path. Many ideas that appear compelling on the surface, fizzle on further scrutiny. Markets may look very exciting at first, especially when we do not know much about them. And some of us are very good at creating a whole storyline around why an idea ought to be the best thing since the discovery of fire, on the basis of only a few observations. When we dig deeper, we find either that what we so cleverly conceived of as new has already been done, or that the task is much more complicated than we thought. Of course there is nothing wrong with hurdles, which many of us love because they represent challenges to overcome, as well as opportunities to innovate. But it helps to know the terrain before we take the leap.

The message in Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers should be heeded: It takes 10,000 hours. It is only when we have been immersed seriously in a market or industry that we really understand both the opportunities and how to make the most of them. This is a disheartening message for a young 29-year-old just finishing his or her MBA at a prestigious school, surrounded by brilliant and ambitious people, and feeling the world is in his or her hands — specially when they see news like today’s Google bid for Groupon, and its 30-year-old founder, Andrew Mason. The Masons and Zuckerbergs of this world are few and far between. But do not be disheartened, I have a consolation to offer: You do not have to be the visionary who can “see” the future. You just have to make sure you make that visionary one of your companions on the journey. And if you haven’t put in the time yourself, your visionary had better have the 10,000 hours under his or her belt.


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