Successful Innovative Entrepreneurship is Seldom Learnt at Business School!

by Janet Sernack

It takes enormous passion, deep vision and incredible anti-fragility to become a successful innovative entrepreneur, more than most of us could ever imagine! My recent experience at the European Innovation and Entrepreneurship Conference in Brussels, last month reaffirmed this as I suffered through a number of mostly un-innovative, boring laborious and mostly irrelevant research papers on the subject, presented by the cream of global academia.

This is because academic and other educational institutions teach students’ theories that help them develop knowledge on the subjects of innovation and entrepreneurship. Whilst this is an important aspect of their overall tertiary education, it doesn’t support their overall learning process in applying and integrating their learning into successful and innovative and entrepreneurial business behaviors, practices and habits. This is especially relevant with the advent of the lean start-up as the emerging business model for innovation and entrepreneurship.

It seems that they have lost the essence of true education, as defined by Wikipedia “in its general sense is a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, or research. Any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational”. And that the true essence of it, is in the word “education”, which is derived from the Latin “ēducātiō” which requires “a breeding, a bringing up, a rearing” and not just the downloading of ideas and knowledge!

This means that there is huge gap between what academic institutions are teaching about innovation and entrepreneurship and what students need to learn to be successful innovative entrepreneurs to sustain themselves and deliver the results they want to have. It is a well know fact that adults learn best by “doing” and by “doing” together. This enables them to develop the competence, consciousness, collaborative abilities to be in and sustain what will become, their entrepreneurial lifestyle!

The gap can be easily reduced by enabling students to “do” through focused behaviors, skills, practices and habits of innovative entrepreneurship. It can be further reduced by enabling them to “be” successfully enabled innovative entrepreneurs! This can be achieved by enhancing their capability to think differently and develop the anti fragility required to be ultimately successful in their entrepreneurial endeavors; by developing and applying the intrinsic motivators, mindsets and thinking and feeling strategies of innovative entrepreneurship to everything they do!

Our research reveals that one of the most exciting and inspiring aspects of a successful and innovative start-up is the audacity, creativity and anti fragility of courageous start-up entrepreneurs. It’s amazing how many of these enterprising adventurers embrace, succeed and flourish within the 24/7 “emotional and cognitive rollercoaster” that pervades the broad range of entrepreneurial stresses and constraints. Start-up entrepreneurs typically operate within “ambiguous boundaries” and experience a “constant friction with reality” between what they know and what they do. Most start-up entrepreneurs will agree that it’s how they manage their own “survival game” to sustain what is an essentially entrepreneurial lifestyle which matters most.

In other words, it’s in the ‘doing’ or the practice, and not necessarily in the “knowing” or the theory that enables them to solve problems and deal with challenges in new ways that ensures their ultimate success.

One start-up entrepreneur, who attended the prestigious US Wharton Business School, described this experience as his “third degree” in what he termed, “practical entrepreneurship”. This is more about “doing” entrepreneurship which requires courageous leaps and deep dives into the uncertain, the unstable and unknown, which is something most normal people will avoid! It also requires letting go of the security provided by a well paying and regular job, to invent new breakthrough business models and strategies that may or may not be, ultimately successful! He went on to describe this as the entrepreneurs 24/7 “reality shield”, which impacts on every part of his life and has to be managed on a constant, day by day, minute by minute basis.

The term “self efficacy” has been used to describe the inner courage and confidence an entrepreneur needs to stay in the innovation or lean start-up game. This builds their ability to constantly challenge and change their own reality by extending themselves to operate successfully within, and flow with, the ambiguous boundaries that envelop their business efforts. However, this is only a small part of the equation; it also requires willingness to come from both an intrinsic, necessity and possibility based set of colliding perspectives. Also by the development of the mindsets, behaviors and skills of:

  • “Not knowing”, to be able to quickly and seamlessly adapt and collaborate and to flow with “what is” and “what could be”.
  • Challenging convention through disruptive and generative debate that transforms problems into innovative opportunities and solutions.
  • Encouraging and permitting failure through experimentation and improvisation and not succumbing to risk adversity.
  • Maximizing diversity and differences to explore and sustain fresh perspectives and pathways that keep the pot simmering and always being on the boil.

At ImagineNation™, we have developed The Start-Up Game™ to help academic institutions and corporations close the gap between teaching innovation and entrepreneurship and learning how to “do” and “be” an innovative entrepreneur. The Start-Up Game™ is a gamified business simulation that is part of a customized organizational learning process that brings the lean start-up process “to life” and develops innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship motivation, mindsets, behaviors and skills to create:

  • A culture of “provocative competence”.
  • An innovative culture and business eco-system.

It enables players to learn how to be an innovative leader or entrepreneur through collaboration, role play, creative tension and the integration of adult and experiential learning principles with gamification processes. The Start-Up Game™ simulates the 5 phases of the new business venture or Start-Up Cycle and takes players thru a visceral and cognitive experience of the innovative start-up entrepreneurial emotional roller coaster.

Let’s all lobby and awaken academia and their institutions to these phenomena, and close the education and learning gap by creating inspiring and innovative learning programs that proactively breed, bring up, and rear a new generation of innovative and entrepreneurial leaders. Perhaps these enabled innovative entrepreneurs will help catalyze the economic growth and competitiveness required to shape the emerging new world!

image credit: imaginenation.co.il

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  1. Innovation Professor

    I am afraid this comment does not do justice to academic world: a quick look at the conference program http://academic-conferences.org/ecie/ecie2013/ecie13-timetable.htm makes it evident that there were ALMOST NO top academics there (just search for Stanford/Wharton/Harvard/INSEAD/Chicago – nothing comes up). So where is the “cream of global academia”?? I am afraid you just went to the wrong conference – and it is not surprising that little interesting happens in many institutions. This is the difference between “the best” and “the rest”. And what does the academic conference have to do with how entrepreneurship is taught at these schools? I think there is some basic misunderstanding here of how the academic world works and maybe just a poorly hidden attempt to sell some software. Totally off the point post/sales pitch. The editors of this web site should watch out for such posts: they decrease overall quality, which is usually superb.

  2. Thanks for your comments, great to know that the conference I attended was not typical of most academic ones, and that “little interesting happens in most institutions”. I was both surprised and disappointed at the disconnect between what gets taught by almost “no top academics” about entrepreneurship and innovation, and how it works in “real life”. Incidentally, I do not sell software, I am merely a corporate educator of almost 30 years standing to some of Australasia’s and Israel’s top 100 companies.

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