It was with great excitement that I discovered the
Price-Babson Symposium for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE) program at Babson College, a program that teaches those educators who will be responsible for training tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. Babson has a nearly 100-year history of studying, debating, and encouraging entrepreneurship, and this program was especially designed for educators. After a few months in the waiting line during which I persistently insisted on an extra seat, I was able to enroll in the course. It is one of the most traditional at Babson and aims to encourage participants, mostly educators, to study, reflect, and rethink concepts and tools of entrepreneurship.
Babson is located near Boston on a flawless, idyllic campus with great infrastructure for extension courses. The adjoining hotel has more than 200 rooms and a learning center with large conference rooms, support rooms, lounges, and cafes. There’s a feeling of comfort, convenience, and predictability, though, in my view, it lacks a certain creative chaos.
Professor Heidi Neck led the course, with the participation of other specialist faculty who each had great presence and charisma. Their teaching style was equal parts technical, funny, and theatrical, and focused on helping participants find their own authentic and genuine style of teaching. This was something that each of us ended up being invited to explore and find for ourselves.
The days started early and the many activities and exercises were designed to bring invisible theories to life. Outside of a folder containing a few selected texts and PowerPoint slides, all the rest of our learning came through hands-on work with small groups. One of our main goals was to shift entrepreneurship closer to what can be taught and acquired, and away from something that is simply inherited. We also had several classes with tools, exercises, and stimuli to explore concepts like design thinking, value propositions, business models, and economic models.
We sat at long bench-top tables with place cards, but each day we were assigned different seats. Without a fixed place at the table, we pushed outside our comfort zones and were forced to be flexible and open to new experiences. I found it very powerful that creativity and collaborative construction were maximized by minimizing the barriers between speech, action, and thinking. This is the anchor of Babson’s methodology, called Entrepreneurial Thought & Action®: the thinking happens together with the doing.
We gained firsthand experience with many familiar concepts, like “learning by doing” and “fail fast.” In order to be successful, we had to check our egos and the urge to self-censor. The chance that an idea might grow into something exciting thanks to group discussion and input is much greater than the risk of shame or fear that might cause you to keep an idea or a thought to yourself.
Through this process of theory and practice, doing and thinking, feeling and rationalizing, I heard another phrase that made a big impression on me. Professor Heidi Neck introduced a maxim: “Do not worry about being the best. Strive to be the
only.” This phrase made me pay attention to what I could individually contribute to the group, and made me mindful of discovering what made each person present special and unique.
We explored a method of “doing” that has four interdependent practices: empathy, creation, experimentation, and imagination. The practice of reflection is a central link across all four dimensions. A metaphorical exercise helped us understand this logic: the puzzle and the quilt. When assembling a puzzle, brain patterns are triggered and tend to fake polarizing logic. Puzzles reinforce linear thinking, a more competitive dynamic, and a specific outcome. In turn, creating a quilt presupposes experimentation, collaboration, and the result is not predictable. Real success is a blend of both models; a combination of predictive capacity and creative ability.
If the world is complex and is always changing, entrepreneurs need to be able to anticipate improvements, adaptations, and adjustments. In this way, the traditionally more predictable and managerial style of management has to give way to the creative and restless chaos of the entrepreneurial style. It’s no surprise that playfulness and imagination are important to the entrepreneurial style. These traits keep the process from being mechanized and dull. Energy, focus, and commitment need to be constantly nurtured regardless of the effort, dedication, and sweat required.
Throughout my time at Babson, I was filled with new reflections, provocations, and ideas as I began to embrace the responsibility of preparing the entrepreneurs of the future. Despite geographical and cultural differences, common challenges united my fellow colleagues, and we were able to establish a good exchange. For example, we reframed the fail fast notion and replaced it with a more active and conscious term:
affordable loss. Ultimately, labels and semantics will be less important than taking action. For tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, action will be present in new businesses, in initiatives within corporations, in disruptive projects, in incubators in companies and universities, and in many different levels.
Our farewell dinner featured a special dish typical of the New England region: lobster. Seeing the shells, pliers, and tweezers, set out on the table made me realize that I was in over my head. I knew I wanted to try the lobster, but how? How do you break its shell? How do you know what parts to eat and what to avoid? How do you use the tools? How do you pull all this off without doing something stupid or childish? My jigsaw puzzle mentality was there, almost killing my curious spirit. It was only when I migrated to the quilt mode and, looking from another angle, laughed at myself and made peace with not knowing. Instead of making excuses and going back to the buffet again for some roasted chicken, I smiled at my colleagues and silently started my process.
The world already has too many excuses, doesn’t it? Why not take advantage of what is already within your reach? How often do you think you need something, only to realize later that everything you needed was within you all along? The lobster was just the spark I needed to rekindle my curiosity. Life is full of strange, unknown, new, and unpredictable elements that constantly put us to the test. Refocusing from what you lack to what you have in hand makes all the difference, and is the key to effectively taking action.