Seminal entrepreneurship and innovation skills can in fact be learned
After presenting to the UC Berkeley Engineering Leadership Professional Program cohort this week, I started looking into some of the backgrounds of the people I met. One of the most interesting people was the Director of the program, Ikhlaq Sidhu.
I found a recent post he wrote refreshing because the question of whether entrepreneurship and innovation skills can be taught seems to be the topic of discussion behind closed doors these days, especially for incubators and accelerators looking to improve and expand.
The title says it all...
SEMINAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND INNOVATION SKILLS CAN IN FACT BE LEARNED
You may already be aware that the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship (BMofE, seelink on our CET website – https://cet.berkeley.edu/curriculum/) is a unique teaching model for developing the entrepreneurial mindset, in addition to teaching tactics and providing infrastructure for the new venture process. One of the big questions in the field of start-up education has always been whether entrepreneurs are simply “born” or whether entrepreneurial skills can be acquired. Our most recent findings give us reason to believe that these critical skills and behaviors can indeed be taught and learned.
We see support for this in the confluence of two major themes:
1) our own co-authored Comfort Zone research showing that entrepreneurs and innovators are comfortable (and continue to be increasingly so) with ambiguity and with experiences outside their comfort zone
2) empirical research studies on motivating success by Carol Dweck, a distinguished Stanford psychology professor. Her findings show that mental growth, learning, and resilience are linked to a specific mindset (growth mindset), which allows students to be comfortable working outside their comfort zones and accepting of new challenges.
Thanks to Rebecca Loeffler, Visiting Scholar with UC Berkeley’s CET and on loan from Germany’s prestigious Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU), we are now bringing together concepts from social psychology (part of Rebecca’s academic focus) with our previous work training entrepreneurs.
So, let’s connect the dots. Prof. Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets is exciting for education, with most of the study being conducted originally in K-12 settings. What she discovered is that children typically develop one of two mindsets: a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset”. The fixed mindset characterizes students who believe that ability is a fixed trait. Often children become constrained in their learning by allegedly permanent “labels” such as being smart or not smart. People with a fixed mindset try very hard to hold their label of being smart by avoiding challenges or situations that might have others question their badge of credibility. They are mostly afraid to lose the label of “being smart” which they have already attained.
In contrast, individuals with the growth mindset believe that ability is the product of effort and can therefore be learned or trained. They believe that they can overcome challenges and develop new mental capabilities. Those who have a “growth mindset” are not afraid of being wrong. Instead they find reward in the experience of overcoming challenges. They continue to take on challenges outside of their comfort zones and they continue to grow.
As mentioned earlier, the amazing part is that this growth mindset can be learned. It comes down to reward mechanisms. For those who are rewarded by themselves or others for “being” smart or successful, it generally leads to less self-driven challenge, less growth, and a downfall in measured results. But for those who are rewarded for the process of “overcoming challenges or trying new strategies or for even effort” the result is a positive reinforcement for taking on harder tasks and a continued increase in capabilities and results (i.e. to get in to the growth mindset on your own, “don’t tell yourself your are brilliant, instead, be proud of the challenges that you have been able to overcome”)
In our most recent Comfort Zone research work, originally developed by Prof. Paris de l’Etraz at the IE Business School, we observed that among the segments of entrepreneurs/innovators, managers, and engineers, it is the entrepreneur segment that is the most tolerant of ambiguity and the most comfortable to take on challenges outside of his/her own comfort zone. Moreover, it turns out that people in each segment would like to increase their comfort with ambiguity believing that they would actually be happier professionally and personally, however, only entrepreneurs/innovators actually continue to grow in this manner. Every other segment regresses slightly after their high school years, while entrepreneurs and innovators markedly increase their comfort with ambiguity.
There are several major results (or at least hypothesis) that could be concluded from this:
- A growth mindset allows a person to be comfortable with ambiguity and therefore creates the seminal condition from which entrepreneurship and innovation skills and mindset can be formed.
- Developing a growth mindset is essential to become a successful entrepreneur. Successful entrepreneurs are likely to reflect a growth mindset.
- A growth mindset can be fostered through certain kinds of feedback and rewards.
- Since reward structure has a direct effect on mindset, it’s likely that corporate environment or social environment plays a significant role in creating and incentivizing entrepreneurs and innovators.
- Ultimately, we can teach people in ways that will bring out their intrinsic innovation and entrepreneurial potential.