“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.”
                      Jonathan Raymond

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:


  1. Focus on Opportunity – be observant, ask yourself and others questions and be open.

  2. Be a Learner – leaders who are continuous learners make better decisions.

  3. Start with the Means at Hand – begin with what you know, who you know, and who they know.

  4. Seek Outside Input – think beyond the first idea and encourage others to offer input.

  5. Invest in Your Team – Focus on a common purpose and build trust.

  6. Think Big – Imagine and paint a picture of where you are headed.

  7. Seek Feedback – be flexible, take in new information and lean into ambiguity.

  8. 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,
and beyond.

The 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.

Entrepreneurship Means
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.

Recommended Resources: 

Feel like you're running low on fresh ideas? Get creative with these thought-provoking TED Talks to inspire new and experimental thinking (from 



One of our most innovative, popular thinkers takes on-in exhilarating style-one of our key questions: Where do good ideas come from? With Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson pairs the insight of his bestselling Everything Bad Is Good for You and the dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air to address an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using his fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward. Beginning with Charles Darwin's first encounter with the teeming ecosystem of the coral reef and drawing connections to the intellectual hyperproductivity of modern megacities and to the instant success of YouTube, Johnson shows us that the question we need to ask is, What kind of environment fosters the development of good ideas? His answers are never less than revelatory, convincing, and inspiring as Johnson identifies the seven key principles to the genesis of such ideas, and traces them across time and disciplines. Most exhilarating is Johnson's conclusion that with today's tools and environment, radical innovation is extraordinarily accessible to those who know how to cultivate it. Where Good Ideas Come From is essential reading for anyone who wants to know how to come up with tomorrow's great ideas. [Arabic subtitles provided by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, with support from the Stevens Initiative]
The surprising habits of original thinkers | Adam Grant

The surprising habits of original thinkers | Adam Grant

Visit to get our entire library of TED Talks, transcripts, translations, personalized talk recommendations and more. How do creative people come up with great ideas? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant studies "originals": thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world. In this talk, learn three unexpected habits of originals — including embracing failure. "The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they're the ones who try the most," Grant says. "You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones." Adam hosts the TED Audio Collective podcast WorkLife with Adam Grant--a show that takes you inside the minds of some of the world's most unusual professionals to discover the keys to a better work life. Listen to WorkLife with Adam Grant wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe to the TED Audio Collective: The TED Talks channel features the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and more. You're welcome to link to or embed these videos, forward them to others and share these ideas with people you know. Follow TED on Twitter: Like TED on Facebook: Subscribe to our channel: TED's videos may be used for non-commercial purposes under a Creative Commons License, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives (or the CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International) and in accordance with our TED Talks Usage Policy ( For more information on using TED for commercial purposes (e.g. employee learning, in a film or online course), please submit a Media Request at

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!  

Healing Conversations: Lessons Learned in 2020 and Making Our Way Forward in 2021
00:00 / 01:04
From Entrepreneurial Families to Creating New Businesses with Zach Barricklow & Laurie Brintle-Jarvis
00:00 / 01:04
Chicago to D.C. – Driving Change and Empowering Women to Lead with Renée Johnson
00:00 / 01:04
From Rocket Science to Entrepreneurship & Makerspaces: The Story of Chuck Eason
00:00 / 01:04