The idea of teaching entrepreneurship is an ongoing debate in both the academic and entrepreneurial circles, and one that has a number of perspectives, given the emotional appeal of entrepreneurship as a career choice, and the “rockstar” status it holds in today’s world. The question is can it be taught?
There has been a lot of research conducted in entrepreneurship pedagogy, which has contrary opinions. Even in my own cohorts, it creates a bit of controversy. So, let’s examine what we do know.
In research conducted on “success”, there is little evidence that suggests having a university or college degree will lead to being successful in your profession. Now, of course, it all depends on how you measure “success”, but in this context let’s assume it’s about leadership success (i.e. being able to get to top leadership roles). Mainstream, society states that having an education qualification is the benchmark that it tends to hold as a measure of success. However, in my belief, this is an outdated view and something that belongs in the chronicles of the Industrial Age.
Furthermore, even employment innovators such as Google Inc., have recently discarded the idea of having an undergraduate degree for its candidates in place of a 6-month training course through its “Google Academy”, to receive a “Google Certificate”; which is supposedly equivalent to a four-year degree (according to them).
So, if this is the case, then what relevance do universities play in training future candidates for professions, when clearly success does not always lay in hard-skills development? It seems in today’s world soft-skills development, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence development, curiosity, creativity, etc., are highly sought after (and required) because these are the skills that are hard to replace through AI or robotics.
Does that mean universities will become irrelevant? Well not quite, as they still will be required for professions such as medicine, law, engineering, etc., but the way candidates will be trained will dramatically change over the coming decades, not just with virtual or blended form, as we are currently seeing, but for more experiential and self-discovery type of education, where educators become facilitators of self-learning and mentors to the candidates. This is exactly the type of development that is essential for entrepreneurship. These are personally tailored experiences around project development that enables curiosity and allow for soft-skills development, whilst hard-skills or theory development is introduced through self-learning when required, or in the latter parts of the project development. Over the last decade, this has been my proven teaching model for undergraduate entrepreneurship at a university level, here in Melbourne.
Research suggests that whilst entrepreneurship skills can be taught, the desire or drive to be an entrepreneur is usually not. It seems as though the enterprising spirit must be discovered within the individual, NOT developed by the individual’s experience. This discovery is often initiated through imagination and “play”, and that is why curiosity is an important attribute for success in entrepreneurship.
Furthermore, universities are not adequately preparing candidates for careers in entrepreneurship. In fact, education may even hinder them from being a successful entrepreneur, as it does very little to encourage the discovery of the enterprising spirit, replaced with the teaching of risk avoidance behaviour, so that candidates can be “conditioned”, and seen as “risk-free” for the employer, (just ask any employment recruiter).
In today’s uncertain world, being “safe” is the riskiest thing a business can do. Given the average length of a company today is around 8 years, it is a sure-fire way of growing broke. In fact, if a business fails to innovate, it’s a potential disaster in the making, not a case of “if” but “when”, due to technology (and more recently Climate Change and the COVID-19 pandemic), which is driving rapid societal behavioural change.
An entrepreneurship education experience must create a “safe” environment for candidates, one that teaches game theory and is designed to enable curiosity and imagination. It must be created in a way that creates a trial and error environment; a play area with boundaries. Such environments encourage “failure tolerant” behaviours, that also instill resilience and self-confidence. All of which are critical characteristics for successful entrepreneurship. These skills can be taught and developed through tools such as gaming and simulation activities, where making mistakes don’t have “real” world consequences.
So, as our learning capabilities have evolved towards experiential learning, today’s education institutions also need to keep up (in fact innovate), to remain relevant in the modern world. Contemporary education requires it to be a customized and self-learning experience for candidates.
As entrepreneurship requires creating a unique experience both for the entrepreneur and the customer, so too does the learning environment, and in the words of the author and entrepreneur Steve Blank, “it all begins with a blank canvas”. Therefore, the candidate’s learning also needs to be unique and tailored to their experience, not something that is “cookie-cut” and churned out for Industrial Age environments, that maximises profits for teaching institutions.
Ever thought about how our grand-parents coped with tough-times? It was their mental resilience. Arguably, they were different times, but it does seem society works in 60-70-year cycles. So, here we are, again, facing one of the greatest existential threats to our way of life.
To rise through it, we must develop character and resilience, because, in life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you, it’s how you react to it, that is the key- “stuff” happens. The ability to getting through it all is somehow, try to keep moving forward, towards hope; then our resilience will naturally develop. Remember the Stockdale Paradox?
We WILL get over it! How do I know? When I ask my parents, who survived WWII, they keep reminding me, that this will pass, just like the War. The lesson here is: “nothing is permanent”. What’s good, turns bad, and what’s bad turns, good, and there is no pleasure with pain, the two go hand-in-hand.
We are facing unprecedented times, so the “rule book” has been thrown out, NOW is the time to create the future we have dreamed of for ourselves. For some of us those shackles have been broken, for others, it’s the “Chicken Little” approach. Now is the time to figure what REALLY matters. Those material possessions we have strived for, may not be relevant in the future, as many of us have come to the realisation, that external happiness is an illusion. It must come from within and for many of us, we now have that clarity of thought, (due to the Lockdown); it may be time to reboot. Just like the old Soul II Soul song, “Keep On Movin”, don’t stop!
Are you wondering why most startup businesses seem to fail? Perhaps that they are built on an unstable platform or around an unsustainable basis.
Based on 27 years of my own experiences as an entrepreneur, here are my 15 Golden Rules for startups to avoid some of the greatest pitfalls when starting a business.
Rule #1: Start your business with a REAL purpose in mind: Do something you love and are good at, that people need and you can make money from, then passion will be your driver. The Japanese call it “Ikigai”
Rule #2: Your business MUST create wealth for you and your family. Otherwise, it can ultimately lead to heartache, headache, and opportunity cost.
Rule #3: Don’t JUST focus on making money: Aim to become the best in the world at what you do, then the money will come.
Rule #4: Trust and credibility are cornerstones for a successful business: No trust, no credibility, no business! So, build yourself into an expert!
Rule #5: Listen to your market (carefully): Having the right customer insights can save you a lot of time, effort, and money!
Rule #6: Learn to solve a complex problem: The more complex it is, the more money you can make!
Rule #7: Timing is the MOST important factor in business success, your team is second, then factors such as business model, idea, funding arrangement, etc.
Rule #8: Forget about writing a business plan: Instead spend that time and effort finding a customer, learning to understand their needs, and creating a solution for them. (The plan comes when you have worked out what you are doing).
Rule #9: No money to start? Then you have to “hustle”. Become a “deal maker”, broker, or help someone solve his or her problem.
Rule #10: Learn the rules of the “Industry Game”: Who are the major players and your competitors in your industry, who are the ones to watch out for, and who are the “400-pound Gorillas?” Then go develop a profitable niche. Who knows? They may need you one day!
Rule #11: Learn to form alliances and partnerships: having trust and credibility is a starting point, but having something to offer them, (such as a way to make or save money), will be the decisive factor.
Rule #12: “Traditional” marketing does not work for Startups as: “nobody cares about your business”. Instead, find someone that will, by providing them a solution to their problem.
Rule #13: Learn to delight your customers: Give them a reason to talk about your business (in a good way of course): by under-promising and delivering above their expectations.
Rule #14: Get to market as soon as possible: Don’t wait for your product or service to be “perfect”. Customers aren’t looking for perfection, but rather function; 80% is near enough. Launch your product, get their feedback, and improve along the way.
Rule #15: Always begin with the “exit” in mind: Understanding how you will “exit” the business will ultimately determine your path and long-term strategies.
I hope that has given you some insight into the challenges of starting a business as an entrepreneur.
The main takeaway is: start with a purpose and get to market as quickly as possible; 80% is near enough (as long as it works and is not crappy), the customer’s feedback will steer you in the right direction. So, listen, learn, and repeat until you are able to reach excellence!
Every Cloud has a silver lining and now is the time to transform your life and innovate your business for a “Post” Corona Virus world. Those that doing this are well on their way to become the new industry leaders. Being able to move forward despite the challenges is a sign of resilience, problem-solving, and creativity, which are the hallmarks of being a successful entrepreneur.
Whilst some of us are feeding on the doom-and-gloom surprisingly, there are many operators that are getting on with the business of creating a post-COVID transformation.
The world has changed fundamentally and I believe 2020 will be remembered as “BC” (“Before Corona Virus”) and “PC” (“Post-Corona Virus”) periods. Like the events of 9/11, this pandemic has given us a new “lens” to view the world through. I can see us in the future asking each other: “what were you doing BC” or “what have you been doing PC?”
On a personal level, this pandemic has made us re-evaluate the greater meaning of our lives, and success will no longer be defined under the same terms as BC.
The lockdown has become a great opportunity for fresh thinking and a “re-evaluation” of our core values and definition of “success”. It has also redirected our priorities towards more meaningful interactions with our loved ones or following our passions and dreams.
As a business coach, many of my clients and colleagues I have spoken to, are quietly forging ahead and innovating their businesses to overcome the challenges they are facing. Many have done this by leveraging the opportunities created with the rapidly accelerating digital transformation that is currently occurring globally.
For businesses that have been able to innovate, they are now preparing to “pounce” in the PC world. The case in point are the local restaurants that were doing takeaways and deliveries under the lockdown. Now, with the latest easing of restrictions in Victoria, (where two different groups of people are now able to meet, for example at parks), some of these restaurants have been quickly pivot to deliver gourmet food picnic hampers. As the good weather arrives in Melbourne, and people flock outside, this could bring a little ray of sunshine for these struggling businesses.
For some, this pandemic has caused a lot of hardship, whilst for others, it has given us a taste, (albeit a short one), of a “utopian” model, (in Australia at least), of what life could be like if we all slowed down and if we were all paid a universal basic income (with the generous government handouts). It has provided many of us with an opportunity to not only spend more time with our families but also given us the time and opportunity to develop personally by acquiring new skills or following passions, which we previously never had the time for.
However, for those of us who have been lucky enough to experience this “utopian bubble”, it will soon burst leaving us to face up to the new economic reality of looming hardships. Let’s hope it’s a soft-landing for us all.
Whilst we have the opportunity under lockdown, we should take this time to transform our lives not only for the PC world but make it “future COVID-proof”, should there be another pandemic in the future. Just whittling away our time on the couch, watching Netflix, binging on food and alcohol, and waiting for all this to end to return to “life-as-usual” is a wasted opportunity because there never will be such a scenario ever again. The world has changed forever!
We will discover that some things that were important in the BC world will simply no longer be relevant in the PC world, and if you haven’t re-invented yourself, then you will have missed a unique opportunity to develop resilience.
Lockdown has also given us an opportunity to learn to just “be”, and explore our own headspace and learn to love our own company and to learn to “let go” and go with the “flow”, because as we have seen with anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne recently, resistance is futile. All it does is heighten our anxieties, or worse, exacerbate personal disorders or induce mental illnesses such as depression, paranoia, and psychosis.
So, then what is the PC world going to look like? Well, your guess is as good as mine, however, there are “macro” shifts occurring, but on a personal level, this pandemic has given us an opportunity to reflect on the new reality we really want for ourselves and our loved ones, hopefully, one that is filled with love, purpose, and passion and then build it.
On the “macro” level, some of these shifts include the transition from globalisation to localisation, creating many opportunities for manufacturing and supply chains. (The government has already made some funding announcements on this). There will be a shift towards more self-reliance, things like growing our own vegetables and home cooking, as well as a move towards repairing things and making do with what we have. There will also be a more frugal approach to consumerism, with a more “need”-based approach to purchasing instead of continually following the latest fads, as we’ve come to realise there are a lot of material things we can do without. Experiences will be more localised, (in the short-term), as we rebuild our trust in international travel again.
Our domestic realities will be more sheltered and isolated, as we keep building our sanctuaries, castles, and fortresses. As recently experienced, there will be a boom in homewares, whitegoods, entertainment systems, and also the Internet of Things (IoT), with the hope of making our lives easier and safer. However, this may be short-lived as the “bubble” bursts.
Under this lockdown, some of us have adjusted well, whilst others have engaged in a Dystopian view, but we have to remember that: “it is not what happens to us in life, but how we react to it that makes the difference”. As we’ve experienced, “stuff” happens, but our mental frames, combined with our intrinsic resilience will determine if we can get through this pandemic mentally unscathed or not.
For businesses, now is the time to innovate, and those that haven’t will most likely find themselves irrelevant in the PC world. Surprisingly, there are some that are thriving and there are some even admitting it’s been a fantastic year of opportunity and character development for them, given the catastrophe.
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to think about the reality we really want, and the need to work towards creating a society we really want for ourselves, one based on the things that REALLY matter, beyond the mediocrity that has subdued us. Now is the time to break those bonds, rip those chains that have been holding us back and prepare to pounce for the coming New World.
So, what sort of life do you really want for yourself in the PC? Will it be back to normal for you? Where does your happiness lie and has it changed over the last six months? I would love to hear your feedback on this.
Tobi Nagy- Educator and Founder of the BCF Coaching Academy.