Pat J. Costa works with students in Lehigh University’s Wilbur Powerhouse to help them explore solutions for their entrepreneurship project.
Think Outside Yourself is an eBook for teachers not for students. My classes are comprised of students from all three undergraduate colleges at Lehigh University including business and economics, engineering and applied science, and arts and sciences and include students from first year through seniors. So I had to learn admittedly through many mistakes how to communicate to such a varied group in a way that was meaningful. I want to share my 17+ years of teaching creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in the Entrepreneurship Minor Program and the Integrated Business & Engineering Honors Program.
In all my classes there is no textbook, no tests and no memorization and regurgitation of mindless information. My classes are an experience in which the student is the textbook. I focus on lots of hands-on activities, in-class presentations from the students not me, and team projects in which students invent new-to-world products and services. In this regard, students learn to address technical issues in a business context from an entrepreneurial focus. And regardless of their major, students experience how an entrepreneur looks at problems as opportunities and learns how to solve them from the customer’s perspective.
This is a different type of class. Public speaking, creative problem solving and design thinking are the hallmarks of the class. It is an interactive journey, a process-driven experience in which everyone including me dives in without knowing what the outcome will be. That means if students are not comfortable working on open-ended issues in which both the problem and the solution are unknown, they may want to consider not taking the class. Also, students who sit passively and are content watching others engage in the messy world of product development, critical thinking and entrepreneurship will not have a positive experience in the class.
What I have come to understand is that as a teacher you have to find ways and activities to help your students learn to get out of their comfort zone so they can truly experience what entrepreneurs think and believe and more important, how they behave. You must become comfortable not knowing the direction of the class and having the students decide what information they need to learn and how they will go about learning it. Students will quickly learn that the answers are not in the classroom nor on the Internet but out and about in the marketplace and you too must learn how to think outside yourself in addition to your students.
Here’s my entrepreneurial teaching philosophy:
- Have a clear vision and sense of purpose for the workshop.
- The mission of the class is to address technical issues in a business context from an entrepreneurial focus.
- Rely on effective coaching, not ‘managing’ student teams.
- Surround the student teams with talented mentors who embrace the mission and vision of the program.
- Be courageous …
- Take calculated risks to support course ideals.
- Be entrepreneurial in spirit, philosophy, and actions.
- Failure is just feedback so fail often to succeed sooner.
- Create a customer-centric, service-driven solution.
- Fall in love with the customer --- “You can have anything you want in life if you first help others get what they want in theirs.”
- Let the marketplace drive the business decisions.
- The answer isn’t on campus or the Internet so shut up, show up and listen to the customer.
- Focus on the process and not the outcome.
- The journey is the destination. Get comfortable with CHANGE.
- Follow your dreams and have fun along the way!
There are many approaches to teaching creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. There are many textbooks that are used. I know. I read most of them. In fact, many of the in-class activities, lectures, critical thinking assignments, and project-based team activities come from these texts. I try to make entrepreneurial thinking and theory come alive in the class through these activities. That’s why I don’t use a textbook. I want the class to be flexible to move in any direction based on the needs, desires and interests of the students. Each class is different because the students and not the old grey-haired guy in the front of the room drive it. You need to become the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage as well as extremely confortable not knowing where you are going and how you are going to get there … and so do the students. That is the real challenge of the class.
The Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) of colleges and universities promotes entrepreneurially minded learning through their 3 C’s:
- Explore a contrarian view of accepted solutions.
- Integrate information from many sources to gain insight.
- Creating Value
- Identify unexpected opportunities that create value.
I certainly incorporate much of the KEEN approach to teaching in my class. Another approach I use is from the firm IDEO that is a world leader in design and promotes outside-in thinking through what they call empathetic design. I use the IDEO approach to challenge students to think like their customer and to look at the problem from their customer’s perspective. IDEO has many tactics and strategies to accomplish this and I think I use most of them in class. There is a saying that is attributed to Albert Einstein that I often paraphrase in class, “If you always do what you always did, then you’ll always get what you always got.” The IDEO folks would say that if you always incorporate the safe and expected approach to problem solving that you will never innovative any new-to-the-world solutions. Be daring. Be bold. Be adventurous. These are the benchmark approaches to teaching in the class.
There are 3 major components of the class: Understanding Entrepreneurship & Entrepreneurs, Creativity, and Innovation. In each section, there are in-class activities, lectures, and homework assignments that will help you teach and discuss the theory in an engaging way. The assignments and activities are fun but not a joke. They are wrapped around entrepreneurial thinking and are designed to have the students live the theory rather than memorize it. There are 28 lectures, which include a theme for each class as well as PowerPoint Presentations, in-class activities, videos, and critical thinking assignments. Class deliverables from the students include PowerPoint Presentations, Oral Presentations, Posters, and Written Reports. Samples are included in the resource folders. There are grading rubrics included as well but remember the class is a experience so all grades are subjective on your part. I believe if a student is fully engaged, a great teammate, and willing to dive in to open-ended problems without regard to outcome, then that student deserves a great grade. Use whatever resource you like but mostly add you to the experience.
The focus of the class is about change and what usually happens is amazing. Students change their perception of entrepreneurial thinking. They realize they are creative. They learn they can innovate new solutions to existing problems. Above all students understand that these skills with practice can be learned. Students can change and that will change you.