THE ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET
DEVELOPING & APPLYING MINDSET TECHNIQUES
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” is a common phrase that has deep implications in higher education. As the pandemic and COVID-19 have taught us as a global community – there truly is so much we did not know (and still don’t know) before the spring of 2020 about Zoom conferencing, testing, disease prevention, delivery of online education and a myriad of other topics. Yet individually and collectively, we learned new skills and adapted to a culture of isolation, unknowns, and constant change, quickly becoming proficient in uncharted territory.
Despite the hardship and pain of 2020 and 2021, leaders in NACCE’s network – who participated in thousands of Zoom calls and Center of Practice gatherings – applied an entrepreneurial mindset and reported increased levels of confidence and optimism.
“You can't know what you don't know. You can't know about things that you have yet to discover.”
To be an entrepreneurial leader in the classroom, campus or community that embraces entrepreneurial mindset and works at it to become more proficient, requires one to adopt certain behaviors. Nan Langowitz outlined these behaviors in Babson College’s Thought and Action column, published August 2019:
Focus on Opportunity – be observant, ask yourself and others questions and be open.
Be a Learner – leaders who are continuous learners make better decisions.
Start with the Means at Hand – begin with what you know, who you know, and who they know.
Seek Outside Input – think beyond the first idea and encourage others to offer input.
Invest in Your Team – Focus on a common purpose and build trust.
Think Big – Imagine and paint a picture of where you are headed.
Seek Feedback – be flexible, take in new information and lean into ambiguity.
Take Action – moving forward is essential, despite all of the unknowns.
Relying on the strengths inherent to an entrepreneurial mindset is critical in a crisis. In NACCE’s case, we began 2020 with the opening of a new corporate headquarters, hiring additional full time staff to support the increased travel, engagements and events planned prior to the pandemic.
By applying Langowitz’s eight behavioral strategies, we were able to pivot and launch several new member services online – a digital badging program, a virtual member maker network, global and women in entrepreneurship centers of practice, and a virtual member-focused online community to encourage engagement – all while increasing attendance at hybrid and virtual events. It was not an easy endeavor to rapidly redeploy our resources, but the team kept focusing on opportunity, seeking feedback, pivoting as necessary, and celebrating success and failure. See 2020 NACCE Annual Report.
If NACCE had elected to pause for a long period of time rather than pivot, we would have lost the momentum in membership and revenue growth that we gained in the previous four years. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls this “The Flywheel Effect” and he describes this way:
No matter how dramatic the end result,
good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break,
no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant,
heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough,
The calmer-you.com website offers a visual of what the journey to success looks like for leaders who apply an entrepreneurial mindset. This is a helpful way to describe an entrepreneurial path to team members and even family members that are more linear thinkers. Note that despite the twists, turns and pivots the arrow proceeds upward in “what it really looks like.”
John Kay | Obliquity: How Complex Goals
are Best Achieved Indirectly
TEDxWarwick March 22, 2012
From Broadcaster to Assessment Entrepreneur
Dennis Stauffer, a career broadcast journalist in Minneapolis, Minnesota, embarked on an entrepreneurial journey to create a new tool to help students of all ages and experiences understand themselves better and to become more innovative in their work. Dennis and I first met in 2017 on a coach bus headed to a Philadelphia 76ers game at the invitation of the USASBE board of directors. The USASBE organization is dedicated to advancing entrepreneurship research and pedagogy in universities. Dennis was attending the conference to learn more about entrepreneurship in higher education. By investing time and money, he was exhibiting many behaviors recommended by Langowitz; namely, focusing on opportunity, being a learner, seeking outside input, thinking big and taking-action. On our ride to the game, Dennis shared with me how this new assessment worked and the research behind it. By accepting the invitation to a social event, he was also creating a network of people and organizations that can serve as mentors and resource providers to him.
Four years later, in the middle of the pandemic, I reached out to Dennis to find out what had become of his idea. To my delight, I learned that Dennis has turned his idea into a successful small business – Innovator Mindset – providing assessment and elearning resources to higher education professionals and students along with businesses and other clients. “This was so much harder than I thought it would be. There was so much I did not know about starting a business that I learned along the way. My passion for this product and these ideas kept me moving forward,” said Dennis.
Innovator Mindset Lessons from Dennis | Core Dynamics, Hidden assumptions & Feedback
#1 – Innovator mindset, entrepreneurial mindset and the related tools of design thinking and lean startup follow the same core dynamics and behaviors like being a self-starter, taking risks, focusing on your locus of control and looking for opportunity.
#2 – Assessments that diagnose mindset are useful because they help us to dig down deep and get at hidden assumptions that trip us up in our work.
#3 – Receiving feedback and really reflecting on what it means and how we can use it to make better choices and take decisive action is invaluable.
Embracing a Lifetime of Learning
In addition to understanding your own profile for entrepreneurial or innovative behavior, training programs like the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative’s Ice House Training created by Gary Shoeniger brings together higher education professionals, students and community members who want to be more entrepreneurial by learning and working on projects. I met Gary in 2014 at my first NACCE conference, held in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a conference that I almost missed due to a conflicting engagement, but fortunately, I found a way to get there. At the conference, I met Gary and learned about his training that is based on his best-selling book, Who Owns the Ice House: Eight Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur, co-authored with Clifton Taulbert.
A lifelong learner, Gary is one of the most curious and reflective people that I have ever met. He is continually seeking to understand and to pivot as markets change and opportunities to advance the knowledge and training of entrepreneurial mindset emerge.
Entrepreneurial Mindset can be learned.
Cultivate and adopt a set of behaviors that include learning, seeing what assets you have, and seeking feedback.
Growth and success is possible in the face of adversity.
Don't allow external challenges (including the pandemic and economic decline) to limit you. Assess opportunity, pivot as needed and partner with others.
Assessments are enlightening.
Assessments are helpful because they identify strengths and areas for growth, guiding us to make better decisions. Find one that works for you.
Embrace thinking differently, and imagine what is possible.
Entrepreneurial Mindset helps us to think differently about ourselves and what is possible for us if we are willing to practice it and find mentors and resources to support our journey.
Entrepreneurial Mindset Lessons from Gary | What He Wished He Knew Before Starting a Business
#1 – Entrepreneurship is about creating value for others. My first business failed because I was trying to make money for myself, not thinking about what other people needed. I got it backwards. It was a very painful lesson.
#2 – Find mentors. Experienced entrepreneurs are perhaps the greatest underutilized resource we have. They will greatly increase the likelihood of success. They are in every community and they are willing to help. All we have to do is ask. I could have avoided so many setbacks, but I thought I could figure everything out by myself.
#3 – Everyone can be an entrepreneur. You don’t need money, big ideas or unique personality traits to be innovative and entrepreneurial. I realized if I was going to get somewhere I had to figure it out with what I had available at the time.
#4 – Think differently. Entrepreneurs can learn how to think and act differently. This skill is not a pre-disposition but can be taught.
#5 –Success does not happen overnight. I found out from experience that you need to put yourself into situations that are intimidating and be willing to do things poorly before you do them well. You can’t figure out and perfect it all at once. Be willing to fail. Source
As educational leaders and faculty, Gary’s lessons offer a different perspective through his own deep reflection of what has worked, what did not, and why. His focus on empathy (by creating values for others), inclusion (everyone can be an entrepreneur), patience (success does not happen overnight) and the necessity of thinking differently and finding mentors can be applicable to all people.
Looking for more? Take a listen to this curated collection from NACCE's own podcast, Making Our Way Forward. Like what you hear? Subscribe on your favorite platform!