Engaging The Entrepreneurial Mindset: The Extra “E” In STEAM

“Not everyone can be or even wants to be an entrepreneur, but everyone should want to be entrepreneurial.”  -via Inc.

This idea of being entrepreneurial is not a new concept, rather, it is one we have been discussing for years. However, it is a concept that is beginning to be discussed in educational arenas more often, as of late. So, before moving forward, let’s spend a minute in grounding ourselves in clarifying the difference and understanding of being an entrepreneur, as opposed to being entrepreneurial. Especially as this differentiation can be supportive in determining why it may be important for students and for their future when we also consider the differences between “following your passion” and “turning your passion into your profession.”  

So, let us dig in and dive a bit deeper…

According to Enterprising Oxford, being entrepreneurial is “not just about starting a business, or spinning out a company from research. It’s a mindset, or a way of thinking.”  Whereas, Google shares that an entrepreneur is, “a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.” And, for educational purposes, we may want to focus a bit more on the entrepreneurial than the entrepreneur side of things.

Which is a difference that we have to become much more cognizant of, as well, especially as the world of work continues to shift and change, often in some very exponential ways. As McKinsey&Co shares in their paper Education to Employment, “Leaders everywhere are aware of the possible consequences, in the form of social and economic distress, when too many young people believe that their future is compromised.” Which, for many students and young people, a future compromised is exactly how they feel. A future that is becoming much less obvious, and much more ambiguous and uncertain. For which McKinsey&Co add, “The journey from education to employment is a complicated one, and it is natural that there will be different routes. But too many young people are getting lost along the way.”

In a time of deep digital disruptions, automation, and an infusion of artificial intelligence  with growing capabilities that are putting their stamp on both our personal and professional spaces, especially in the world of work, just telling people to “follow their passion” can be a recipe for disaster towards their future success. As example, no one wants to engage in an extra twelve years of education and the possible educational loans that accompany that education, in order to become, let’s say a radiologist…to then realize that there is a very good possibility that there will be only a limited future in that profession due to its high probability for automation. The goal of a postsecondary education for most students is to provide opportunity for a more stable opportunity towards a professional pathway, not as a gamble that can possibly leave them underemployed or unemployed, while saddled with educational loan debt. Or, as McKinsey&Co put forth, “Only half of youth surveyed believe that their postsecondary education had improved their changes of securing employment.”  Which often means that today’s students have to have a much deeper understanding of the education to employment pipeline, of the system. They need to have a much greater awareness of the path and the outcomes it is leading them towards, than just moving forward on the mantra of “follow your passion” as a pathway to their future.

As Entrepreneur shares, “It’s not enough to just have a good idea and get a little traction. Real change requires a more ambitious canvas.”

While, having two sons that are in the midst of considering and determining their pathway, I am finding the importance in instilling skillsets and a mindset that is much more entrepreneurial towards their future. Which allows them to “follow their passion” while engaging in the skills, skillsets, and mindset that allows them to better determine how “following your passion” can actually lead to better outcomes and a better future for them. By honing an entrepreneurial mindset, they are engaging in the thinking and skillsets that will help them allow that passion to fuel their determination towards seeing how their passions have both niche and wider opportunities for their future. Or, if that passion may need and or require a bit of reframing, a change in perspective, or a different lens in order that it is actually leading them down a more successful path for their future.

Which, is actually taking an entrepreneurial mindset towards the mantra of “follow your passion.”

With that in mind, let’s look at some ways that we can engage a more entrepreneurial mindset for our students that can positively support them for their future:

  • Create Your Space“following your passion” is also in being able to see how that “passion” has a future and then determining how to define that niche and begin to create the future for yourself. We live in a time where and entrepreneurial mindset provides the impetus to create your space that brings others to your passion, allowing you to see a space for that passion, and how that passion can be turned into a profession that can flourish in the future.
  • Challenge Conventional Wisdom – part of joining together creative and innovative thinking with problem-solving is the willingness and ability to challenge the conventional and or status quo was of thinking and doing. To do this requires today’s youth to spend much more time determining and then asking both deeper and better questions, which has not always been the focus of a traditional education, which is often answer-focused. It is in those questions, in seeking out problems that need solving, that students can reframe from focusing on obstacles and become more focused on seeing possibilities.
  • Step Into Uncertainty – when we begin to focus on questions more than answers, we finding ourselves slipping into unknown territory, one that is filled with more uncertainty than certainty, which can be uncomfortable. Persisting in these spaces is quite difficult and requires high levels of persistence and resilience to push through our constant want for stability and safety. Building up this tolerance for ambiguity is vital in a world that is becoming more complex and volatile under the accelerating pace and rate of change.
  • Amplify The Message – today’s students need to know how to communicate effectively, both written and orally. And they need to be able to communicate in this manner in a variety of arenas. Being able to communicate in this manner, is often referred to or known as being “purple people,” as they are able to communicate in a tech space (red) just as effectively as they are able to communicate in a leadership space (blue).
  • Engage Strategically – whether getting down to the root cause, being able focus down to the core of a problem, or determining how to engage in calculated risk, it needs to be engaged in a strategic manner. Using data, incorporating evidence, determining best practices, or even engaging in experimental and discovery learning, doing so in a strategic manner is paramount to making stronger choices that lead to better outcomes. It is not enough to just see the problem, if you are unable to strategically approach the problem in a way that leads to better solutions and improved outcomes.
  • Pivot As A Strategy And Process – too often we try to follow the “garden” path and find ourselves caught up in an endless loop of sameness, entrenched in the known. And then wonder why we never gain new ground or achieve greater success. Instead, determine when a pivot is necessary and needed, in order that it moves you to new places, new destinations, new outcomes. We cannot believe that following the well-worn “garden” path will take us any other place than what we already know. Those unwilling to pivot, often remain on the “garden” path and continuously wonder why it is not taking them “anywhere” different. Individual agility and adaptability is often in knowing when that pivot is necessary and needed.
  • Everyday Better – understanding that learning has become an everyday way of existing, moves the idea of learning from an event to an integrated way of existing. It is in understanding that there isn’t really failure, but learning, more learning, new learning, that leads to new starting points, helps us see the journey as just a part of living, growing and evolving. Knowing that learning is now a necessity for a world that is constantly changing and evolving, allows students to view learning as a process, rather than an event or an end point.
  • See The System – today’s students, especially in a world that has become more connected, more networked, and much more collaborative, need to see not only from a systems view and how all of those systems connect and interact, but how to work more effectively within those systems. Especially in a time when those systems and platforms provide much more opportunity for their entrepreneurial mindset to be engaged to the benefit of seeing how “following their passion” can lead to better outcomes for their future.
  • Curiosity, Confidence, And Courage – building up a sense of curiosity, confidence, and courage will allow the above skillsets to be engaged with not only more positivity and willingness, but in a more meaningful manner. When students run into obstacles, instead of giving up or losing hope, curiosity, confidence, and courage provides them the push forward to find the possibilities that often lay just outside and beyond those obstacles.

While not everyone will end up being an entrepreneur in the future, being entrepreneurial can provide students the skillsets and mindset that can provide the learning that will allow greater access to a world of work that is changing and shifting in some very exponential ways. It is not just in “following your passion” but in determining ways to make “following your passion” actually work towards a profession that can lead students towards a more positive and meaningful future. And as Reid Hoffman shares, “Society flourishes when people think entrepreneurially.”

“All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship.”  -Reid Hoffman