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This past weekend I participated in an event called The Entrepreneurial Mindset. The two days of learning were co-sponsored by the School of Education and Human Development and the School of Business at CU Denver. A number of SEHD faculty and staff learned about entrepreneurial practices and thinking alongside local school superintendents and other school district administrators. We heard from the Chairman of the Board of Semester at Sea, learned about the importance of emotional intelligence, did a deep dive on branding and marketing, and talked with entrepreneurs in both higher education and medicine.
Several key ideas resonated with me from our discussions. One was the idea that entrepreneurship is a mindset. It’s a willingness to take action, try things, and be resourceful. It’s a willingness to lean into the fear and welcome change. It’s a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them without being paralyzed. And it’s a willingness to focus relentlessly on the needs of the ‘consumer’ in order to improve their experience. In education, we’re not very good at many of these things. We also need to recognize as educators that entrepreneurship isn’t available to anyone who thinks of themselves as a victim. Passive, helpless mindsets don’t align very well with active, efficacious, change-oriented action.
Another key idea for me was that we have to be good problem seekers before we can be problem solvers. In education, we need more robust problem-seeking structures and behaviors that move beyond simple diagnoses of complex challenges. Otherwise we jump to ‘solutions’ that don’t address what’s really needed.
I also appreciated the reminder that value always lies in the perceptions of others. Just because we think we’re offering a good experience for others doesn’t mean that we actually are. But if we care to listen to the people we serve, they can help us improve what we do. This can be a bit challenging because educators are in it for the long haul and current ‘stakeholders’ may not see the value of some of what we’re providing until later in their lives. It’s possible, however, for us to care about both lifelong impacts and our children’s and families’ immediate experiences. I believe that is a goal worth striving for, even when we simultaneously serve multiple and sometimes conflicting stakeholder groups.
Business people use different language than we do as educators. They talk about ‘adjacent possibilities’ and ‘competitive offerings’ and ‘perceived stakeholder value.’ But at the heart of it all, their conceptions of mission-driven work and aligning that work to the needs of children, families, and communities are not that different. Yes, our children aren’t widgets and we should always critically examine the ethics and practices of any field. But it would be silly for us to pretend that the world of business has nothing to lend the world of education. If we choose not to hide in our P-12 and higher education bubbles, many of us could benefit from framing some of our work in different ways in order to accomplish our ‘job to be done,’ the critically-important job of helping the people that we serve.
In your professional life, are you entrepreneurial? What might be the benefits of such an approach?
Image credit: Risk, Sean Davis
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