I talked with Denny Hummer, Manager of StartUP Lewisburg, an incubator established by the Bucknell Small Business Development Center. Denny is an inspiring mentor to countless entrepreneurs around the Susquehanna Valley. As a seasoned business owner, he shared his concept of a “Pot Filler” as we explore the Entrepreneurial Mindset.
Two powerful words voiced by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and heard most mornings on NPR segments they support. Living in Central PA as an entrepreneur, but working outside those boundaries, I feel the powerful tug of war between common and uncommon.
Products & Services: Being an entrepreneur in small town USA can mean hanging a shingle promoting your efforts to bring the common to the community. We all know the common things. They are the services and products that a large population of humans seek or need frequently. The uncommon can feel risky, NEW and strange. Should I open that Art & Team Bar in a culture of drive-through coffee drinkers? Be too uncommon and the entrepreneur can feel the sting of common mindsets. See, that’s the point about being uncommon. It makes us, the consumers, reevaluate our needs and think deeper about what can benefit us. Is the same old, same old good? Bad? Just meh? When entrepreneurs kick us out of our comfort zones and into a new mindset….we all win. The uncommon wins!
Approaches & Tactics: Common extends into organizational structures and cultures as well. That old, dusty Vision Statement hanging on the wall is common. It’s ignored, but common. Having our Monday morning meetings, common. Ineffective, but common. Teams of people attempting to work together with little to no effort put into understanding ourselves, each other or how our unique blend of attitudes and behaviors impact organizational performance. That’s common. Not great, common. Bad actually. But common. Just like the convenience and comfort of hitting that drive through for a cup-o-joe, we get caught in a drive through mindset of work culture. “It’s not healthy, but it’s quick and we KNOW how to do it.” Pretty soon, we’re ordering an extra this or that in cultural terms. One day, we add a side of team in-fighting, or how about a crushed spirit or two? No harm no fowl. We were in line and while we’re here, why not. The common. We all know what the common drive through routine results in. Unhealthiness. So yes, the common Approaches & Tactics for organizations result in the same.
Developing an organizational mindset equipped for our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world can become common, but for now, it is uncommon…and lovely…….and needed.
If you didn’t click through to the article on the Kauffman website listed above, here is a powerful quote:
“You should not choose to be a common company. It’s your right to be uncommon if you can. You seek opportunity to compete. You desire to take the calculated risk, to dream, to build, yes, even to fail, and to succeed.”
— Ewing Marion Kauffman
This is my challenge to every organization, be uncommon. Craft a Vision that is INSPIRING. Build a Mission that is worth doing repeatedly by the HUMANS who have joined you. Get to know your fellow teammates beyond ritualistic hellos and goodbyes and thank yous and awkward high fives. Be committed to being uncommon for those you serve because they NEED you to be uncommon, but may have no idea what that looks like. That’s your job. That’s OUR job.
Want to be uncommon, and awesome. Connect with me to bring MYNDDSET services to your organization. Together, we’ll MAP, ADVANCE and TRANSFORM your culture. We’ll be UNCOMMON together.
Todd Henry, an incredibly inspiring author, shares a simple model for “Creatives”, those who’s work demands they be creative. He presents a model that includes being Prolific, Healthy and Brilliant. Shift, remove, or lessen just one part of that model and the expected outcome (being a Creative) shifts to another outcome (being tired and not healthy for example). Here’s a link to the Accidental Creative podcast covering this topic to learn more.
What I love about this simple, three-part model is that it provides the opportunity to look at the inter-dependency of the parts and how they lead to an emergent “thing.” In the entrepreneurial world, a similar model can help us understand how to “be entrepreneurial.”
As entrepreneurs, we often get so into the weeds we’ve grown, we get distracted from our purpose. If we’re building a widget, we get blinded by the shiny parts and if left unchecked, we can start to think what the widget does is what we ultimately seek. For example, if we build a new high performance electric car, the performance of the car can easily become sweat nectar and lure us into a sense of significant accomplishment. However, have we forgot the real reason we’re building the car? What about our vision to end the world dependency on oil? Oh yeah. So, now, our high performance, $100,000 car seems not so capable of reaching the masses and that means achieving our initial vision is at risk. We just went 0-60 in 2 seconds but got nowhere. (But it was fun 🙂
Following a model of entrepreneurism can help us focus on key aspects of being entrepreneurial. Whether your an entrepreneur by title (i.e., you launched your own business) or you’re an employee with an entrepreneurial spirit, how can a simple model such as this one keep you on track?
Following Todd’s lead, what if you just Build Something that doesn’t do anything predictable? What are you then? And, what are you if you build something that does something awesome but doesn’t result in anything specific? Flip it. What if you spend all your time mapping the results you want, but don’t build something to get you there?
At the far right, let’s change that box to Vision (our future state, our dream). The middle box, make that Mission (what we do every day). The left box, that will be our Capacity (the systems we build to do our work). I made a decision years ago to pursue my entrepreneurial visions and that includes surrounding myself with entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Every day, I get to unite with entrepreneurial minds in my community. Amazing, local rock stars doing amazing things. Yet, one thing we all often struggle with is the model above. Sometimes we loose sight of the far right as we keep our heads down building the something. When we get that something up and running, and it’s cranking out something, we feel a sense of “doneness.” We can get comfortable. Our vision (far right) can get fuzzy. By using the model as a whole we build a mindset (a perspective) on entrepreneurism that is simple and powerful.
How can this help you in your entrepreneurial efforts?
Any time I have the opportunity to lead a crowd on an educational journey, I remind myself….If I DON’T get them THINKING about the information we explore, they won’t build new knowledge. And, if they aren’t building new knowledge, they aren’t learning. And, my job is to help people learn.
Crowd-based learning is INCREDIBLY powerful. Why? Because it harness these two formulas. So, that was my approach this week when I lead a session titled “Entrepreneurism is a WORKFORCE Issue.” My goal was to have the crowd build a model of an Entrepreneurial Mindset and then align that model with current needs of employers (to build a strong workforce). With over 50 people in a small room, they went about building a model. Yesterday, I roughly pulled together their thoughts.
It isn’t pretty, but it is powerful. Yesterday, I wrote this article on RISK. The group felt rather strongly that embracing, taking, accepting RISK was an attitude entrepreneurs exhibited. That was just one of the attitudes that bubbled to the top of their work. Others include:
Energetic, Driven Approach
Creative and Innovative Thinking
These attitudes and ways of thinking lead to the behaviors that wrap up into what this group thought of as describing an Entrepreneur. And, I agree. This collection of attitudes, this MINDSET, exhibits what an entrepreneur is (much better than any definition of an entrepreneur). And, the important take-a-way is the one hour journey we took together to build this mindset model.
My last request of the group was “Now, look at wall and remove any item you don’t believe employers want in employees today.” No one moved. There was a rather audible “ah ha” moment. Our effort to build and understand the entrepreneurial mindset with the crowd lead to a level of learning and understanding much deeper than the attendees thought was going to take place in that one hour session. And, they have themselves to congratulate for it.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop on “Entrepreneurism is a WORKFORCE Issue” for the 35th Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association Annual Conference in Hershey PA. With 55 attendees, the energy in the room was high and ideas flowed freely. Thanks to everyone who attended for your contribution.
While there were many powerful conversational moments – those Ah Ha! moments, one of the most compelling was on RISK. The workshop centered around how an entrepreneurial mindset IS what today’s employers are seeking and desire of their employees. I broke the audience into team as we journeyed toward this way of thinking and explored attitudes and behaviors of entrepreneurially minded people. Part of the exercise to build this mindset with the attendees was to make distinctions between someone labeled an “Entrepreneur” vs someone described as having “Entrepreneurial Spirit.” Most of the teams included RISK to describe an “Entrepreneur.”
“I want my staff to have entrepreneurial spirit, but I don’t want them taking RISKS.”
“I want my staff to have entrepreneurial spirit, but I don’t want them taking RISKS” one attendee shared. I’m so glad this conversation took place. I knew a positive workshop atmosphere is in place when another attendee added, “But what about calculated risk?” So we dove deeper. What does “calculated risk” mean? We discussed viability with consideration to available resources and proper use of those resources, risk compared to change (or sameness), innovation and creativity. When the question of RISK first came up, some groups removed their RISK sticky note from their list of characteristics of those with entrepreneurial spirit. After we deconstructed the idea of risk, teams proudly put that RISK sticky back on the wall.
Our mental models of what entrepreneurial spirit is are everything regarding how we value those traits as ways to grow organizations and improve workforce development. The conversation moved into framing clarity around RISK. I asked the attendees if they’ve used a simple question in interviews. “Are you a risk taker?” Head nods confirmed. Having spent time in discussion, the group was primed to understand why that question wasn’t aligned with an organizational entrepreneurial spirit mindset. The question leads candidates down a rabbit hole. “Do they want me to be a risk taker? Maybe they DON’T want risk takers on their team?” Risk taking is an organizational decision. Interviews need to set clear expectations on how the organization views RISK and what they are looking for. I shared a simple shift in questioning technique. If an organization desires risk takers, how could we shift the question? For example, “When presented with an action you consider a risk, how would you evaluate the level of risk and communicate your ideas to your team or supervisor?” This question clearly lays out the expectation that an organization is seeking someone who approached risk as a valuable skill.
As the workshop continued, the attendees responded positively to the Model of an Entrepreneur which demonstrates Entrepreneurs assess viability (consider risks and risk mediation). There are many references in literature to entrepreneurs assuming the RISK of their ideas. Generally, references center around how an entrepreneur makes decisions that many consider high risk in order to pursue their ideas. For example, an entrepreneur may leave the security of their full-time job to start their business, or they may empty their life’s savings with no guarantee of return on their investment. That is what most of us think about when we think of RISK in regards to entrepreneurism.
On our employee teams however, we generally don’t want staff taking RISKY actions, actions that would put people or our organization at risk (reputation, regulation, safety, etc.). But, we do need staff that look at RISK through an entrepreneurial lens. Organizational change, shifts in markets, new design directions, customer-base departures, and others. These activities bring about RISK that when assessed can have considerable value when weighed against not taking them on. We need employee based teams capable and willing to take on risks so that we avoid RISKY actions.
The entrepreneurial mindset is a powerful tool for existing organizations. Entrepreneurism is a workforce issue. The skillset and mindset of those with an entrepreneurial spirit is needed and must be fostered within K-12 education through professional development programs within organizations. Is that a RISK? Yes. It means we have to shift our thinking that entrepreneurial spirit is only for those wiling to be an entrepreneur and take on their dreams alone. These mindsets are complex and simple definitions leave us down. Its time to interrogate our own biases and build our entrepreneurial workforce within our organizations.
One framework…two perspectives. Learn how to tell a great story and you’ll learn how to build a strong business plan framework. If you’re on a journey to build an Entrepreneurial mynddset, you’ll appreciate having a tool for your tool belt, especially one that does double duty. There is an art to storytelling. And, there’s a technique. Today, let’s consider the technique (the framework).
Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. So…what was the problem? What were they trying to solve?
Problem = They had no water.
The simplest of stories follow the 5P framework. They lay out what someone or some group’s Problem is or was. They describe the Promise in the”how this will be resolved” part of the story. At some point, the details, the HOW, or Picture of the solution is laid out clearly. How do we know the solution will work? Some evidence is provided, even in times of doubt or if a new solution is being attempted, some level of Proof it will work is presented. Finally, the process for how others can join in on the action is shared during via the Pitch.
Now, let’s look at what a good business plan needs. Hummm…..let me think. Give me a minute. So…, we need…wait! A great business plan needs those some structural components. Interesting. A good story framework is a good business framework.
It’s a myth to think businesses need a super complicated framework to be great businesses. If you’re struggling to define your business plan, think about the 5Ps. While you build the business framework, you also craft the business story.
Being a leader can be lonely. Whether you’re a “C” level administrator, Division Leader, General Manager or a Solo-preneur, you’re expected to be a thinker. Your day-to-day work places you in situations where solutions aren’t “in the manual.” No, you must generate ideas and solve complex issues from original thought. How do you do that? If you’ve been struggling to describe how you think and you can’t seem to find a method that works, you are NOT alone. In fact, being alone is a problem you need to fix, TODAY!
If you’re feeling alone in your thinking, it’s time to gather your team and get thinking. If you oversee staff, pull your team together from within your organization. If you’re a Solo-preneur, seek out your trusted friends and advisors. BUT, before you step into that thinking session, you need a plan. Your team is counting on you for several things:
They need you to have a clear understanding of the problem you are asking them to help you solve.
They need to know you are not going to waste their time.
They need to know HOW you plan to organize the group’s input.
They need to feel secure sharing ideas.
They need to know you will leave the session with an action plan and that the ideas will not disappear.
They need to feel engaged in the entire process.
If you’ve read this far, you most likely don’t have an answer to the question, “How do you think?” and could use some help prepping for your next team think session.
The THINK’ID8 CO.LAB is designed to teach you the essentials of thinking and provide a structure for think sessions known as Design Thinking. You may have heard about Design Thinking. The process has been around for over 30+ years and has helped many great organizations achieve their goals. After completing this full-day training, you’ll feel more confident in your abilities to lead a team in the efforts to solve your complex organizational problems and build solutions to new opportunities.
Click over to the THINK’ID8 CO.LAB page to register. The full day session is $100.00 per person. There are currently two dates to pick from. Thanks in advance for registering. I look forward to working with you.
Raise your hand if you understand…no….BELIEVE….that for entrepreneurial success, you have to serve the customer first, the customer is always right…the customer is KING. Go ahead…raise your hand if that’s a truth for you.
There…you’ve had a chance to admit that you believe something. You’ve faced an audience of millions and exuberantly raised your hand to show your understanding and your frame of mind. You’ve committed to being like-minded with so many of your peers.
At this point, you may be thinking you’ve mastered the Entrepreneurial Mindset. Let’s explore that mindset. Yesterday, I watched a Livestream recording of a 1 Million Cups event in Kansas. The presentation was provided by the leader of a new, but very successful fitness equipment organization. At one point, he was asked about the build quality and reliability of a new piece of equipment the company had launched. The presenter said, “It’s not a huge problem because the majority of the buyers will rarely use the device.” The point he was making was that only a small percentage of the buyers will use the device hard enough to expose the weak points. So, their support channels are ready to support that small percentage. BUT…is that the right take-a-way?
So, tons of customers bought a product thinking they knew what they wanted. In reality, few of them will actually use the device. So…was the customer RIGHT? Did they ask for the right device. Did they say “if you could just build a device that did X, you could sell millions.” Of course they did. And, they were 100% WRONG!
This is why I teach the distinction between inventing things to please an audience and being a true entrepreneur. I want to go to bed at night knowing that I’ve helped people change their lives. And, I believe my fellow entrepreneurs think the same. That is the Entrepreneurial Mindset.
Don’t think I see customers as always on the outside. Successful businesses need customers. We all benefit when we gather ideas from our customers, when we LISTEN deeply to our customers. But when we parrot back what they are telling us under the guise of a solution, we are doing little to build a truly innovative, high impact offering. One of the toughest jobs I experience as a coach and advisor is helping others think through informing their customers of what they DON’T know.
An Entrepreneurial Mindset freely informs customers of possibilities they have never explored. It fills the gaps for customers, teaches them, guides them toward solutions that will benefit them to a greater degree than what they have been asking for.
If you consider yourself an entrepreneur, think back to your most recent presentation or conversation with a potential client. Did your words leave them wanting to know more? Did they ask you questions, or did they just stare at you? Was your interaction and invitation to talk again, or a closing statement? If you did little more than simply reply to their needs and their “demands” then, most likely, you’ve taken their view and did little to provide a REAL solution.
As entrepreneurs, building on our abilities to listen to customers but create true change means we’re committed to an entrepreneurial Mindset. Please let me know how you keep your Entrepreneurial Mindset alive.
This morning, I visited my Twitterverse and one of my trusted sources and fellow follower Mr. Michael Crawford (Real World Scholars) had posted this article “The Importance of Entrepreneurship in School Curriculum.” I thought the article was a great conversation starter around the reasons all schools, no matter what format or focus, need to have their ears to the tracks and be responsive to entrepreneurial youth skill-set, mind-set development. This is my follow-up to my post and I hope it sparks conversation and more importantly ACTION.
I hate to talk about entrepreneurial benefits in any way that makes entrepreneurial work within education seem like an add-on. Why? Because add-ons are optional, our system is overburdened with them, and the add-on approach to school development is akin to a ship collecting barnacles or our refrigerators collecting magnets and family pictures. Eventually, add-ons weigh down the host. When I consider the scope of our US-based K12 education system, it seems we’ve done little more than continue to treat education as a place to add on an endless set of options this or that group feels is important. Folks, our schools are full. The model of continuing with add-ons has to stop and I don’t want to send any message that states I feel entrepreneurism should be another add-on. So, with that context, I’ll send my message. Entrepreneurism should be core! Not an add-on. Why?
We’ve all experienced the realities of youth egocentric behavior. There is a prevailing mental model of youth that the ego needed for growth doesn’t turn off and leads to ego-centric teens and ego-centric adults. There are tenants of entrepreneurism requiring confidence, self-reliance, sure-footedness, and laser-focus. From the outside, those may seem like ego. But there’s a distinction. Entrepreneurism brings about solutions for others, solves problems others can not, seeks answers to other’s troubles, worries and progress inhibitors. In my experience, employees are more often than not rich with ego. It often comes from over confidence in their security and roles within organizations driven by weak vision exchanged for high dollars. Entrepreneurs however must deal every minute with how they are helping others. If they don’t, they won’t survive. Granted, there are plenty of ego driven entrepreneurs just as their are employees who care passionately about those they work to serve. Remember, I’m presenting a perspective in a way to get us thinking…to spark thoughts we often have to deal with emotions. Oh yeah, our egos! In my entrepreneurial ecosystem, what I see are entrepreneurs who have pushed aside destructive ego and moved to action. I think that’s a lesson all youth need as CORE.
There’s no reason for a lot of what we teach without a connection to products and services.
I feel like we know this, but we don’t seem to want to embrace it. We like to say “we’re preparing kids for the future.” Ahh, what does that mean? Job? Work? Life? Sure, all of that. And for each, what is central? Seeing problems and opportunities. Yes. Solving problems, designing solutions, products and services. Yes. This is why I see entrepreneurism as a core way of being rather than a business management topic or activity to be assigned.
Who’s Responsible? Ecosystems Are.
After talking with schools over the last six years, I’ve learned that K12 schools should not be asked, nor are they in the position to take youth entrepreneurism on alone. As I stated above, they are bombarded with add-ons every day. New state or national regs and local groups attempting to get schools to single-handedly be the care-takers of growing entrepreneurial youth aren’t the answer. Enter Ecosystems. Ecosystems are mechanisms that unite local, regional and even national resources (such as Real World Scholars) in the efforts to build core entrepreneurial competencies. Locally, I’m partnered on VISIONEURS-PA, our efforts to build a specific youth entrepreneurial ecosystem. Ecosystems exist for adults, but few for youth. Why? It goes back to the school is everything mentality. Schools are expected to provide ALL education. The more we count on that, the less likely we’ll build an entrepreneurial nation.
Ecosystems can be responsible for youth entrepreneurial development because the end result is truly focused on solving big problems and making life better. They are made up of groups, companies, service agencies, individuals, investors and charity organizations that believe in the power of entrepreneurial spirit. Yes, we need students with essential literacy, behavioral, scientific and creative skills. We need schools to do that good work. As we think about applying those skills, the more we can make entrepreneurial core, those lessons gain more meaning. The ecosystem can then be there to support the work that we can’t add-on to schools. While some schools have cleared away enough clutter and created entrepreneurial cultures within, many can not and will not. In those cases, the ecosystem can offer out of school supports at the community level. When I think about those services, I think of prototyping, product testing, commercialization, business structure development, and a host of other real-life business supports. Ecosystems add capacity to our schools. That’s the key. As we expect more from educational entities, we must be willing to help build those capacities.
Love to hear your thoughts. I know this is somewhat polarizing. And in no way is anything here meant as a dig to schools. We’re in this together and we have to realize capacity building is needed.