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Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge

Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge

Entrepreneurship students often struggle getting their first customers interviews because they lack a functional definition of Early Adopters.

This exercise uses mechanical pencils, and a 10-minute competition between students, to introduce Early Adopters in a way that not only contrasts them with Early Majority and Late Majority customers, but also demonstrates where and how to find a business model’s Early Adopters.

We are very proud that this exercise was a finalist in the prestigious USASBE 3E Competition, which recognizes the best experiential entrepreneurship exercises at the USASBE 2019 Conference!

The key questions this lesson plan answers are:

  1. Who is the target for our customer interviews?
  2. How and where do we find people for our customer interviews?

Prepare Finding Early Adopters Exercise

You’ll need to bring four mechanical pencils to class – one to represent each of the four sections of the Diffusion of Innovations curve:

You’ll need to bring four mechanical pencils to class – one to represent each of the four sections of the Diffusion of Innovations curve:

  1. One with several full sized pieces of led in the body of the pencil (Laggard)
  2. One with a single piece of led inside (Late Majority)
  3. One with several small (½”) pieces of led (Early Majority)
  4. One with a single piece of led that is just barely too short to be usable. Here’s a quick video on how to prepare it. (Early Adopter)

Introducing Early Adopters

Introduce and define each of the following Diffusion of Innovation adopter categories to students: 

  • Early Adopters: the first people willing to try your product or service. There are a few of these people, but they are vitally important to the success of your business. These people are so hungry for a solution to their problem they’re willing to try anything…including an unproven product like yours.
  • Early Majority: this is the larger influx of people who will make your product a success. These people have a problem you can solve, but they’re not desperate for a solution like the Early Adopters. They’ll need some convincing (by an Early Adopter) before they’re willing to try your product.
  • Late Majority: just behind the Early Majority, the next wave of customers will sustain your business over time.These people have a problem, but they don’t know it. They need to be educated that they have a problem before they’ll become your customer.
  • Laggards: this group is generally not interested in your offering, or may join the party very, very late in the game. Typically they don’t even have a problem, so they’ll only reluctantly become your customer.

Next it’s good to walk through the worksheet below, so students better understand how to identify and find early adopters.

Finding Early Adopters

First hypothesize a problem, such as “I’m afraid of losing my dog”, and the customer segment would be new dog owners. (Note: when working through this worksheet, remind students that their success will come from winning over their early majority as customers, but to get there, first they need to acquire their early adopters.)

Early Adopter Behaviors

Next, hypothesize early adopter behaviors, which are actions someone would take to solve the hypothesized problem. Ask your students for examples of Early Adopter behaviors for the hypothesized problem “I’m afraid of losing my dog”. Potential answers:

  • Get dog obedience training
  • Buy “invisible fence” dog collars
  • Get chip implanted in dog
  • Buys engraved dog collar with contact info
  • Searches google for ways to keep dog from running away

Confirm behaviors offered by students are related to the hypothesized problem. For example, “Goes to the pound to look for their dog” is more likely the behavior of someone who has already lost their dog, not someone who is “worried about losing it” in the future.

Externally Observable Early Adopter Behaviors

To validate there are Early Adopters for their problems, students will actually talk to people trying to solve the problem. In other words, they’ll need to actually find these people and ask them about their problems.

In order to do that, they will need to find people already trying to solve their hypothesized problem. To find people trying to solve the their hypothesized problem, your students will need to come up with Externally Observable Behaviors for their Early Adopters.

Externally Observable Behaviors are similar to the Early Adopter behaviors they’ve already written up. The difference being that an Early Adopter Behavior could be an action that someone takes alone at home that your students would never know about, so they won’t be able to find them taking that action to talk to them.

Externally Observable Behaviors on the other hand are actions people take that your students, personally, can observe so they’ll know where to find those people to talk to them.

For example…

  • Having trouble controlling dog at a dog park
  • Buying invisible fence dog collars or engraved dog tags at pet store
  • Asking on Reddit how to keep dog from running away

Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge

Note: You will need four volunteers for this exercise.

Have the four students come to the front of the room where you have a desk setup for each of them. On each desk, place a piece of paper, and one of the mechanical pencils you prepared before class. Note: Place the “Early Adopter” pencil in one of the middle seats that everyone can easily observe.

Ask your volunteers not to touch their pencils until you’ve told them to do so (you may need to remind them of this several times 🙂 

Ask your volunteers to sit down, and ask the rest of the class to stand up and join you around the four volunteers.

Now ask the class to imagine you were starting a company serving “students who take tests” and the problem you hypothesize they face is,

“I love mechanical pencils because I can erase my mistakes, but they always break or run out of led in the worst possible moments.”

To solve this problem, tell your students you’ve created a new, more reliable, high capacity pencil that holds 4x as much lead as a normal mechanical pencil.

Now tell your standing students that before them are four potential customers for your new product:  

  • A laggard,
  • a late majority,
  • an early majority, and
  • an early adopter

Have the standing students form groups of 2 or 3 and ask them, “If you were a new company selling this new high capacity pencil, and you only had enough marketing resources to advertise your pencil to one of the four people, how would you figure out which one to advertise to?”

Give them 30 seconds to figure out a strategy to determine which of the four is the Early Adopter. Ask several of the groups to offer their strategies. Then ask the standing students, can you tell which one is the early adopter right now?

Answer: No, because you’re observing your customers sitting there, you’re not observing them in a situation where they would encounter or attempt to fix the hypothesized problem.

Ask your standing students, how might we be able to tell which one is the Early Adopter?

Answer: By asking them to write something, particularly something in a high stress situation.

Tell your volunteer students that you’re going tell them a letter of the alphabet and you’ll give each of them extra credit if, and only if, they can write down 20 words in 30 seconds that start with the letter of the alphabet you’ve assigned them. When you say “go”, using only the paper and pencil you have provided them, they must write down at least 10 words that start with the letter “S.”

“Go!”

At this point all four of your volunteers should start feverishly writing, or at least trying to. The early adopter student should start behaving in a way that is clear their pencil is malfunctioning. This is exactly what we want. In fact, at one point the student may even extract the led, ditch the pencil body entirely, and try and complete the task while pinching the led between his/her fingers.

If the “Early Adopter” student asks for a new pencil, or complains theirs is broken, encourage them to try and fix the problem and complete the task.

No matter what happens, even if the Early Adopter student doesn’t get all 10 words written, consider giving them extra credit for participating.

Advanced Version:

You can add extra layers of sophistication to this exercise by trying to “sell” a solution to the Early Adopter’s problem by offering a working pencil in exchange for some percentage of their reward. For example, if you’re offering them 10 extra credit points, you can “sell” them a working pencil in exchange for one or two fewer extra credit points.

To see this modified version in action, watch this video:

Debrief the Finding Early Adopters Demo

With your class still standing around the volunteer students, ask them if they wanted to talk to someone about the emotions related to malfunctioning mechanical pencils which student should they talk to?

Answer: The “Early Adopter” student. The one who just experienced and tried to fix the problem.

Tell your class that there are early adopters all around us all the time; we just need to observe them in the contexts where they are experiencing, and trying to fix, problems.

Now ask your class, what do they think would happen if you had built your new pencil solution and tried to sell it to one of the other three students who weren’t Early Adopters?

Answer: None of them would have bought your pencil. We don’t buy products that don’t resolve an emotional need for us.

Use this example to emphasize why it’s so important to identify the right customers to target. If you can’t find the people who are trying to fix a hypothesized problem, you can’t find people to buy a solution for it.

Now ask your students what would happen if you sold your fancy pencil solution to the early adopter, and the next time one of the other three people’s pencils broke, our early adopter let them borrow their new fancy pencil solution?

Answer: The person with the broken pencil would now be experiencing the problem, and may be emotionally motivated to buy a solution to it, likely becoming your customer.

Emphasize to your students that this is how successful companies become successful. They don’t start by trying to sell fancy pencils to everyone. Instead, they sell to a small group of people experiencing an intense emotion – their Early Adopters. Then the company’s early adopters help the company sell their solution to members of the Early Majority, Late Majority, and the Laggards through referrals and social proof.

Ask your students, what if after several attempts of observing students using mechanical pencils, you never saw someone trying to solve problems with their pencils running out of led?

Answer: The time might not be right for a new “high capacity mechanical pencil.” Maybe pencils hold enough led as it is. Maybe students have other problems that are more pressing and deserve more attention than a high capacity pencil. This might not be the best business to build at this time – and it’s better to find that out before designing and manufacturing the new pencil, than it is after.

Drive home for students that just because you fail to find people trying to solve a problem doesn’t mean you fail. In fact, failing to find people trying to solve a problem is a faster way to succeed, because you won’t waste time trying to solve a problem that no one cares about. Instead, you can “pivot” to solving a more pressing problem, one that people will pay to solve.

Continue Defining Early Adopter Externally Observable Behaviors

Have your students return to their desks and continue with the Your Early Adopters worksheet.

Ask them where you might find people actively seeking a solution to their fear of losing their dog. What are the externally observable behaviors for your early adopters?

Potential Externally Observable Behaviors:

    • Attending dog training classes in the park
    • Buying invisible pet fence at pet store
    • Taking dogs to the vet for chip implantations
    • Getting dog collars engraved at pet store
    • Asking for advice on how to not lose your dog on Reddit

Note for your students how every externally observable behavior has a location where you might be able to find these early adopters.

If you want to help your students find the right people to interview, use an exercise that was a finalist in the prestigious USASBE 3E Competition by clicking below!


Get the “Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Finding Early Adopters: The Mechanical Pencil Challenge” lesson plan. This exercise walks you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 


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More Wish Game: Entrepreneurship in Action

More Wish Game: Entrepreneurship in Action

“I look forward to The Wish Game every week – it’s so exciting to learn like this.” – J.L. (student)

A Quick Review

In my MBA course, I am running the Wish Game all semester, based on an exercise I heard about from Rebeca Hwang. Students wrote down 3 big, specific wishes on the first day, such as being able to meet a celebrity, or visiting a certain place. I choose two people to be the wish grantees each week. The rest of the class works all week to deliver those wishes at the beginning of the next class session. 

This exercise is about hyper-collaboration, so all students benefit by working together under considerable constraints. Student learn entrepreneurial skills like ideation, customer interviewing, prototyping, selling, and mobilizing resources through iteratively practicing them.

The First Wish

My students didn’t do a very good job with their first wish, which was a test one for my son (to see the Mona Lisa). When brainstorming ideas, they began to think creatively, to stretch their boundaries of what was possible. But when it came time to deliver the wish, it was disappointingly simple, non-engaging, and awkward.

We debriefed how it could have been a more impactful experience for both my son and for them. They could have created the room to match the actual room the Mona Lisa was in. Cleveland has an incredible art museum. They could have reached out to see how they could help (maybe providing space, or design help, for instance). The students felt good accomplishing the delivery, but also felt bad that it wasn’t a more powerful experience for my son. I read in their weekly reflection about the need to

  • organize and delegate more effectively,
  • share ideas quickly, and purposefully engage the entire group,
  • more quickly try (prototype) an idea
  • keep the wish grantee’s emotions in mind, as a motivating factor

“Our group wants to WOW! our classmate who we’re delivering a wish for. Now we know how hard we have to work to make that happen.” – M.A. (student)

The First “Real” Wishes

Once I split the class into two groups, I chose two wishes, one for each group to grant. The first week I chose the following:

  • pitching in a Chicago Cubs game
  • repelling down the John Carroll University clock tower
Administration Building (ca. 2003), John Carroll University

From observing groups in class, each group did a much better job of interviewing the wish grantee this time. They asked deep questions about why that particular wish, about the specific sights, sounds, smells, emotions, memories, etc. surrounding the desire for that particular wish. I could see the energy and the excitement in the students as they started to grasp how powerful this experience could be, if they gave themsevles to it!

For the wish to pitch in a Cubs game, the group created a player in the MLB The Show 18 video game, and plugged in a Playstation to the classroom screens. The grantee had requested walk-up music (country music, unfortunately!), but due to some technical glitches the group wasn’t able to play it exactly when he entered the room.

The grantee was wearing his Cubs jersey, had steamed hot dogs with ketchup and tomato waiting for him, and pitched an inning as himself on the Playstation.

For the second wish, repelling down the JCU clock tower, the group right away asked the JCU President for permission to either repel down the clock tower, or to at least take the grantee to the top of the clock tower. Both options were denied by the university’s Director of Regulatory Affairs and Risk Management. The group apparently struggled mightily after this point with how to deliver the wish if they could not get him into the clock tower, so they defaulted to purchasing him a John Carroll University flag and a framed picture of the clock tower.

Debriefing the Wishes

I could tell both groups felt a bit defeated, particularly the clock tower groups. I encouraged them, and gave them permission, to not hold themselves back. They needed a pep talk, and I delivered. I understand it is really difficult to think, within an academic course, in such a way to deliver amazing experiences. Students reminded each other that they were letting each other down, they shared that they knew they could dream bigger, and could put more effort into execution.

“We could have done more, and should have done more. We just didn’t believe in ourselves.” B.H. (student in the group delivering the clock tower wish)

The class brainstormed some ideas for them to allow themselves to share crazy ideas. Many students mentioned they didn’t want to seem too crazy, or sound stupid, or set the group up for failure. As one student opened up and was vulnerable in debriefing, others supported him or her, noting that it was good to share and that it helped them all succeed.

I left that class feeling disappointed, but also optimistic that they were catching on.  This experience is about letting go of assumptions and safety, and giving themselves permission to practice critical skills that will help them succeed in their future. I think they are starting to understand that.

Ultimately, I want to create a safe space where they can dream really big, they can try and fail, and they can give memorable moments to each other

The Next Wishes

The next wishes I pulled from the bag were:

  1. To make homemade wine
  2. To own a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year bourbon

My hope was for the groups to continue to grow their confidence to stretch and deliver a richer, more creative experience each week. What I discovered this week was that they still, basically, hit the easy button. I can’t say I blame them – who knows what I would be comfortable doing had my MBA professor thrown this curveball course at me. I realized I have my work cut out for me to push them off the cliff so they can learn to soar.

For the make homemade wine wish, the easy button was to purchase the student a kit and directions to actually make wine at home. A few members of the group explained what everything was, where they got it, and their thought process behind the wish delivery.

From Fermented Grapes (https://www.fermentedgrape.com/making-wine/)

In the wish grantee’s reflection, I learned that his family made wine for many generations, but stopped recently. He wanted to learn more about making wine so his family could make wine together. What a fantastic experience that would be! I asked him for feedback after he received his wish. He said all the requisite pleasantries, thanked the group for the thoughtfulness, talked about how excited he was to try it out. But I knew from his reflection that he was excited to smash grapes and really dig into it. I have a feeling he was a little disappointed. I know I was; my students are stuck at easy.

Purchasing the supplies to deliver a surface-level wish is easy. Creating an emotional experience within a wish delivery is really, really, really hard.

The second wish this week was the student wanted to own a bottle of Pappy van Winkle 23 Year bourbon from the Buffalo Trace Distillery. This group could not deliver the wish on Tuesday, because they did not get a shipment of some things they needed (they and I blamed the Polar Vortex!) so they will deliver this wish the following week.

In reading their reflections, I discovered they first investigated actually purchasing this bottle of bourbon. They quickly realized it was far too expensive for their budget (NOTE: each student contributes $10 each week and I contribute $50 each week, and what isn’t spent rolls over. At this point, there is nearly $700 as teams have spent very little). The next option they investigated was very interesting.

Apparently, someone suggested they purchase an empty bottle, fill it with cheap bourbon, and seal the bottle. A long discussion of ethics ensued, and the group eventually decided they would do the right thing. I think what they ended up doing was to purchase a few empty bottles of various bourbons the student mentioned he wanted to own, and then purchase him a gift card to a local bar for a few glasses of the particular bourbon he wants. Again, they hit the easy button. They purchased empty bottles, and called around to find a bar that served this particular bourbon.

Debriefing the Wishes

We talked again about ideas for creating more value for the wish grantees. I encourage students to put themselves in the grantees shoes. I want them to imagine the excitement as the anticipation builds, not knowing exactly what the wish will look and feel like. And then I ask them to imagine the feeling when it doesn’t live up to expectations, let alone WOW! them. The looks and the nods tell me they hear what I’m saying, and they understand why I am pushing them. But I wonder if they really get the opportunity?

Again, I urge them to think big, to not keep their visions limited to the classroom space. The students keep thinking that they must deliver the wish in the classroom, but I remind them they can deliver it somewhere else, they just need to capture pictures or videos to share with everyone else because the entire class can’t go.

“We keep thinking like business students, not like entrepreneurs. I know we are too focused on executing and not enough on being creative. Between the 13 of us in our group, we have so many resources, and such a large network, but we haven’t tapped into it yet.” A.S. (student)

We don’t talk about the bottle of bourbon wish because he doesn’t know what is in store. But we brainstorm ways to push the proverbial envelope with the wine-making wish. I explain they could have had the student who wanted to make wine smashing grapes in a barrel. Or they could have sent him to a vineyard, or at least called people who run vineyards to get ideas and possibly collaborate.

The Next Wishes

The next wishes I pulled are

  1. Play in a room full of puppies (especially golden retrievers)
  2. Visit Greece

I hope they can go big. As I observed the groups interviewing, they again asked great questions of the grantee, to understand why this wish was so important, and what aspects were most important to focus on. The group working on the puppies quickly started calling kennels and shelters, and I believe even found an Uber-for-dogs kind of service that would deliver dogs. Their ideation and quick action is promising.

The group delivering the Greece wish seemed to focus on creating the Greece vibe in the classroom. I heard them talking about food, about renting furniture, about scents, about sand and sun. I’m eager to see if they actually transform the classroom into a Greek scene (particularly Santorini, which the grantee specifically mentioned).

Santorini Greece, by Pedro Szekely

What I am asking my students to do is something very new and scary for them. I want them to learn in an innovative way. Different is scary, I get that, so I do everything I can to give them the space and safety to try and to fail, to learn and to push further next time. They are still dipping their toes in the water. I hope soon they will decide to jump into the deep end, because I know they can swim. And even if they can’t, I have plenty of life preservers.

Beyond The Wish Game

I invite my students to work on a side hustle during the semester. I told them is The Wish Game is like their job, their 9-to-5 gig. They have to be there every day, it’s what pays the bills. But like an entrepreneur, they can also work on the side on an idea they want to start and grow.

Some students engaged this opportunity, others have not. I’ve given them tools to

  • identify a problem they are passionate about solving
  • identify who early adopters are for a potential solution
  • interview early adopters to validate a problem exists
  • pivot the problem and/or the early adopter segment
  • build an MVP landing page

A few students connect with me outside class asking for feedback and guidance on their side hustle. I see many of them working on something, but similar to a real scenario, they don’t spend much time on it because life takes over and this gets pushed aside. We debrief each week what some are doing, what they are learning, they ask me questions about various assumptions and curiosities they have around starting a business.

I give my students the tools through our learning management system and guide any of them who want guidance through the journey of turning their ideas into reality. This is an opportunity for them to engage or not, to make choices about how they spend their time and resources. Much like an entrepreneur must decide how to spend her time – with family or building a business – and his resources – on a vacation or building a business.

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

We will run a series of blog posts highlighting Doan’s journey throughout his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.

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Customer Interviewing: Valuable In Any Context

Customer Interviewing: Valuable In Any Context

As we highlighted previously, customer interviewing is a critical aspect of entrepreneurship. Whether starting a business, or working within a business to develop new products, understanding the experience of potential customers is necessary to deliver capture value in the marketplace.

Students need to practice customer interviewing in a variety of contexts. This helps them hone their skills, but also helps them realize the variety of situations where they can apply this skill in their career path.

The following exercise is an adaptation of the “Retooling Products to Reach New Markets: The Lindt Candy Dilemma” exercise Dr. Kimberly Eddleston at Northeastern University developed and shared here. We adapted it slightly to focus more on the customer interviewing opportunity.

Step 1: Explain the Activity

Pass out Lindt Lindor Chocolate Truffle Balls to students. I explain that when I was younger I would see these at my grandparents’ house during the holidays, and that you hated them when you were a kid. I want to create the expectation that the target market for these are the elderly during holidays.

Note: This is not Lindt’s targeting strategy. It helps me to create the learning lesson I’m looking for by creating the opposite customer persona from the one for whom I will ask them to design.

I instruct students to retool the chocolate truffle ball for a new audience – my son. I give them the following characteristics:

  • American boys age 10-14
  • Love candy & chocolate
  • No allergies
  • (really!) hip/cool parents
  • Always multitasking

I show them this picture of my son, and tell them this is my son, so they have a visual of their intended customer.

It is important to show them a picture of a new customer they can contact. If my class is during a time when my son is available (i.e., after his school), I will allow groups who ask to call my son to interview him. If my class happens when my son is in school, if groups ask to interview him, I answer questions on his behalf.

I direct students they will deliver a 90 second pitch for one product they develop based on the Lindt Lindor chocolate truffle ball that appeals to my son. I tell students they cannot develop any sort of M&M type candy, as this is the easy path.

My son judges the product pitches and picks a winner (if he is available he joins me for class, if he is not available I record the pitches and he watches them that night). Students include the following in their pitch:

  • Product name & tagline/slogan
  • Product concept/description (user experience, packaging, etc.)
  • Value proposition (the benefits the customer should expect)
  • Drawing of the product/packaging

Step 2: Launch the Activity

Organize students into groups of 4 or 5 members. Give students 30 minutes to develop their new product offering. Students will ask many questions about what they can and cannot do. For instance, they ask if they can change the wrapper, or if the new product has to have the filling, or if they need to include multiple flavors.

I will not answer most questions, as I want them operating under considerable ambiguity. I reply to all questions that their job is to create a version of the product that aligns with Lindt’s product portfolio but that is appealing to my son.

During this stage, students often spend far too much time on the idea generation phase. I walk around the room, reminding them of the time left. This creates some urgency for them to move beyond idea generation and complete all aspects of the assignment.

Students know they are designing a product for my son. If they ask me about my son’s preferences, I will sidestep those questions. I want students to not get information from a second-hand source, but to realize they have access to the actual customer. Some students ask to talk to my son, so I call him and let the team talk to him (if he is available).

If my son is not available, I will answer questions on his behalf as honestly as possible. If my son is available to judge at the end of class, I put him in a different room during the class, so students do not know he is there. All students will easily conclude they can interview him if he is in the room during the activity.

I want to make it possible, but not easy, for students to gather information directly from their intended target customer; I want them to take a risk and ask if they can call my son.

Students typically figure out or guess that my son is into video games. Those who talk to him, or ask me, find out he is a big fan of playing Minecraft. Many of these teams begin designing chocolate in the shape of Minecraft items (i.e., chests, animals, Steve, etc.) These have been the most common concepts from my students. I see a wide variety of tweaks to this general strategy – some include coupon codes for extras in the game, some include colored filling.

Teams who do not interview my son or I create a variety of products they think will be attractive to preteen boys. Ideas have included products themed around Fortnite or some other video game, Disney, Legos, Harry Potter, sports, emojis, etc. These are drastic failures as my son is singularly focused on gaming.

Some students have younger brothers or nephews who are the same age as my son. These groups often design a solution for those boys. Some will even call and interview their relative.

What they forget is that I told them the customer is my son. If his interests differ from those of their relative, they will design an ineffective product for my son.

Students who effectively interview my son or I realize the product my son wants is something he can easily and cleanly eat while playing video games. Winning products usually include packages that conveniently sit beside him or in his lap during gaming and include some sort of dunking product functionality.

Note: this will change drastically based on the person you choose as a new customer. Generally speaking, girls want a different product than boys, gamers want something different than athletes, etc. That is a valuable learning lesson to reiterate during debriefing.

Only one group in the many semesters I have conducted this exercise asked for feedback on their prototype. Because most groups spend so long on idea generation, they do not have time for multiple prototypes. This group, however, Facetimed my son multiple times with a variety of prototypes, each time gathering valuable feedback on his wants and needs. This group won by a landslide in that class. This is a valuable learning lesson to reiterate during debriefing.

Step 3: The Pitches

If my son is available, I bring him into the room and students pitch to him. If he is not available, students pitch to me, I record pitches and let them know my son will judge pitches that evening. Each team presents their product name, slogan, description and value proposition while showing their drawing.

After the pitches, if my son is in the room, he chooses the winner and explains his justification. If my son is not available, he watches the pitch recordings at night and looks at the drawings I bring home. In this case, he chooses a winner, and records a debrief video that I share with the class.

Step 4: Debrief the Exercise

This exercise forces students to reimagine an existing product instead of creating a new product. The key learning is about customer interviewing. I recommend using this exercise after students have been practicing interviewing around new ideas/products. This allows you to show them the value of interviewing in a new context, which reiterates this most important skill to entrepreneurs.

As Kimberly offers in her original post,

Other entrepreneurship topics that this exercise effectively supports include the discussion of product life cycles, turning creative ideas into innovations, how to grow a business by reaching new markets, types of product development projects (i.e. derivatives, platform, breakthrough), creating a total product offering, and image compatibility in developing an effective advertising campaign.”

Discussion questions to ask students include:

  • What was the most difficult aspect of retooling the product? Why?
  • Did you think about interviewing my son? Why or why not? If you thought about it, and did not interview him, why not?
  • Did you think about asking my son (or I) for feedback on your prototype? Why or why not? If you thought about it, and did not ask him (or me), why not?
  • What lessons did you learn about new product development?

The main points to reiterate during the debrief:

  • If you know your customer segment, interview them! Don’t guess what they want, ask them what they want.
  • Do not get lost in idea generation. Quickly gather feedback on ideas/prototypes from your customer.
  • Customer wants/needs and jobs-to-be-done will differ drastically between target groups.

Get the “Customer Interviewing: Valuable In Any Context” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Customer Interviewing: Valuable In Any Context” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

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Winning 1st Place at USASBE 2019

Winning 1st Place at USASBE 2019

This year’s USASBE conference, a gathering of hundreds of the best experiential entrepreneurship instructors from around the world, was a harrowing one for us.

We survived a strep throat breakout, an unimaginably poorly timed dead laptop, an all-nighter prepping exercise kits, and lost luggage.

Despite the challenges, or perhaps because of them, this was our favorite conference yet. We shared, we learned, and we got energized to improve our product and process to provide you and your students more value.

This year we:

  • Had 100+ people show up to our TeachingEntrepreneurship.org Happy Hour,
  • Interviewed Steve Blank, the godfather of evidence-based entrepreneurship,
  • Ran three sessions, featuring experiential entrepreneurship exercises from our ExEC curriculum,
  • and the highlight….

We won the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises (3E) competition!

Winning the 3E competition is the highest achievement an entrepreneurship exercise designer can win – the Super Bowl for entrepreneurial pedagogy nerds (that’s us!).

This win isn’t about lower-case us (Justin, Federico, Doan and the rest of the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org team). It is about US – the first version of this exercise was inspired by our work with you, the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org community.

This award is recognition for the work we all do, for the feedback and engagement you have generously provided over the past few years.

The recognition is not an arrival point, but is validation we are on the right track, and an inflection point to co-create even more value for our students.

After winning the 3E competition, Justin and Federico quickly turned their attention (until 4am!) to assembling curriculum kits for our happy hour.

Despite just three hours of sleep, Justin (we call him The Champ!) brought his full high-fiving, chair-jumping energy to the competition the next morning, presenting our Toothbrush Design Challenge with an unparalleled passion that inspired the audience and judges. It was a sight to behold.

 

We also sat down for an hour-long, 1-on-1 interview with Steve Blank on the future of entrepreneurship education.

Thanks to your questions, we had a fantastic conversation that covered:

  • the ideal class an entrepreneurship major should include,
  • the weaknesses of customer development and Lean Startup,
  • the academic research around Lean Startup, and
  • how to balance exposing students to the harsh realities of entrepreneurship, while still making entrepreneurial skills accessible to all students

Click here for the full video as soon as it’s released!

And of course, we had a wonderful time hosting happy hour on Friday night. We celebrated our collective success, and enjoyed demoing some new ExEC lesson plans:

Thank you, for supporting us, for challenging us, and for sharing our passion with your students and colleagues. Our success doesn’t happen without you!

Florida was an amazing host, but we’re already planning for next year’s USASBE conference in New Orleans. We hope you join us!

If you want to introduce your students to the #1 Experiential Entrepreneurship Exercise, request a preview of ExEC here


The Wish Game Update: Entrepreneurship in Action

The Wish Game Update: Entrepreneurship in Action

“I can see this course will be the furthest thing from what I had anticipated – but in a great way!” – Jessie S. (student)

I learned about The Wish Game that Rebeca Hwang conducts in her Stanford entrepreneurship course, and my mind exploded with ideas for my MBA course! I threw out my plans for that course and redesigned the entire course around this one activity.

A Quick Review

Students write down big, specific wishes, such as being able to meet a celebrity, or visiting a certain place. The professor chooses one person to be the wish grantee, and the rest of the class works all week to deliver that wish at the beginning of the next class session.

This exercise is about hyper-collaboration, so all students benefit by working together under considerable constraints. I saw this as a powerful path to students learning entrepreneurial skills like ideation, customer interviewing, prototyping, selling, and mobilizing resources through iteratively practicing them.

Learning My Students’ Perspective

I purposely did not share my syllabus or any details of my class with my students prior to the first day. They tried (hard!) to get details, but I remained stoic in my refusal to ruin the surprise.

On the first day of class, I introduced myself, highlighting some details about me that show students I tend do things differently. The kind of details I shared:

  • I met my wife at a rest area while on the way to Grateful Dead shows
  • I hitchhiked from New York to Detroit
  • I have been banned from Canada

Here is my “Who Am I?” slide I show

All 27 students introduced themselves by sharing their name, favorite concert, and something unique or interesting about themselves.

I want to understand the context my students exist in when they are in my course, so I next put them through the Fears and Curiosities exercise. In this exercise, students post Post-It Notes on the wall that contain

  • the things they fear when thinking about life after their MBA, and
  • the things they are curious about when thinking about life after their MBA

What they fear most is not enjoying their job, not making enough money, and not being successful.

What they are most curious about relates to finding & enjoying their job, to maintaining & building new relationships, and to relocating/independence.

I explained to the students that the skills they would practice in this class would help them directly address those fears, and directly explore those curiosities.

I next wanted to understand how these students conceptualized “entrepreneurship” and “innovation”, so I showed this slide:

The students identified fairly typical topics, such as:

  • Ideas / opportunities
  • Problem-solving
  • Selling
  • Prototyping
  • Customer and Market Research
  • Legal Considerations
  • Strategic Planning

We discussed why these topics, I added some of my own from my experience, and then I moved into introducing the course.

Students sat up straight. I saw the anticipation building in them. It was really cool to watch!

I explained the core skills I invited them to practice throughout the course:

After this point, just to build the anticipation to a fever pitch, I asked students how they were feeling. Aaron G. said

“I think this class will challenge me in new ways that I have not been challenged in before, and quite frankly, I imagine they are the things I need to work on most.”

Introducing The Wish Game

I finally introduced The Wish Game, explaining they would each come to class next week with three wishes and their name written on a piece of paper. I stressed these wishes needed to be specific, they should be meaningful, and they should be big, and let them know we’d come back to that to practice a bit so they understood better. Next I explained the following steps we would follow:

I saw blank stares of complete confusion, maybe dismay, a healthy dose of fear, and a pinch of regret here and there. But what I saw overwhelmingly was a mix of curiosity and excitement.

“This is the unknown. It scares me, but excites me at the same time. I feel safe because I believe Doan will be a good guide on this journey. But I also feel scared, because it is such a different way of learning. I can’t wait to get started!” – Michael (student)

There are a few ground rules I shared with the students:

  • Have fun!
  • Do nothing illegal, & nothing you wouldn’t tell your grandmother about face-to-face
  • I contribute $50 per wish, and each of them contribute $10 per wish. Unused funds roll over to the following week
  • If they want to meet somewhere other than our classroom to deliver the wish, they had to tell me by Sunday evening

Practicing The Wish Game

My three wishes would be:

  • Have a conversation with my sister Laura, who passed away in 1998
  • Walk on Saturn
  • Hit the winning shot of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game

I guided the students through brainstorming how they would deliver the Saturn wish next Tuesday. One student mentioned I would need a space suit, so they could buy a space suit costume from Amazon. Many students Googled facts about Saturn – one mentioned the temperature there is -178 degrees Celsius. Another student volunteered that they should fill the costume with ice so I would be REALLY cold.

Some students began discussing the possibilities of using virtual reality. They assumed someone built a program about Saturn, so I encouraged them to find out. They couldn’t find one so they abandoned that idea.

One students suggested rigging me up in a bungee apparatus and suspending me from the ceiling so I felt weightless. (Now we were talking!)

Once the buzz rose to a crescendo and I knew the students were thoroughly excited and engaged in brainstorming ideas to deliver my wish, I gave them their task for the next week. It was to pilot test their wish-granting skills with my son (he’s the good-looking one in the middle down there).

We chose the “See the Mona Lisa” wish. After collecting money, the students had $330 available to spend (I let the students know that if they had financial hardship, they did not have to contribute, so some did not). The class set about brainstorming again.

Some mentioned virtual reality. Some mentioned drawing it on the board. Others mentioned purchasing a replica. One woman asked if she could interview my son. I called him and they asked him questions about why this wish, what it was about the Mona Lisa he liked, had he been to France, etc.

Many of their questions were very ambiguous questions that my 13 year old son had some trouble answering, but some were pretty specific about what he liked about the painting. He mentioned he liked the simplicity. And he mentioned he liked bread and cheese.

Eventually, the class settled on trying to recreate the scene of the room in which the Mona Lisa sits.

A couple students mentioned they have been in that room, that the painting is actually very small, that there are tons of people there and you can’t really see the painting. Students made suggestions about bringing in tons of people, about playing French music, about having people mill around and speak French. The brainstorming and organization was understandably chaotic this first time.

Because I have 27 students in my class, many of them sat silent through this process and a few took the lead. I imagined this might happen, and secretly hoped it did.

I wanted students to feel left out, because I wanted them to come back next week and suggest I split the class in two and deliver two wishes each week (one per group). With 13 weeks in the semester and 27 students, delivering two per week would be great. I wanted the students to want to participate, and to design a solution where everyone could be more engaged. More on that later.

Delivering The Wish

Student did not contact me during the week, other than some fun texts of versions of the Mona Lisa they thought my son might like better than the original, like this one:

 

I arrived with my son before class and had him sequestered where he couldn’t see the students constructing the wish. I must say I was disappointed at their effort – here is what they brought:

  • A framed replica of the painting – but much larger than the real one
  • Baguettes and a variety of cheeses cut on a cutting board
  • Grape juice in plastic flutes (I told them no champagne, or they would have brought champagne)
  • A set of retractable belts like you see in airport TSA lines (to block off the painting)

They rested the painting on the whiteboard trough where the markers go, put the retractable belts in front of it, set a chair there, with the bread, cheese and drinks on a table next to it, played French music, and said I should bring my son in.

The next 5 or so minutes were probably the most awkward of my entire life. My son entered, wasn’t sure what to do, nobody said anything, he made his way to the chair, sat for a few minutes, ate some cheese, thanked them for the wish, and left.

We debriefed the experience. Students discussed their confusion, the chaos of brainstorming, and of delegating tasks. We talked about expectations of doing the minimum – doing what is safe – or of stretching for what seems impossible – doing what is uncomfortable. Students shared what they learned – some talked about how difficult collaboration is when the goal is uncertain.

Some talked about how important it was to talk to my son to understand why that particular wish is important to him. Others talked about the frustration of not knowing how they could and should contribute, and also about entrepreneurship being hard. I showed the lessons I hoped we learned (which we absolutely did):

I saw lightbulbs coming on about the potential of this exercise as a learning tool for entrepreneurship and innovation. A realization creeped across their faces that they missed an opportunity. As one student anonymously informed me after class,

“I am sorry we failed in delivering Ethan the experience he dreamed of. We fell short of our potential. Now we understand that we can go big!”

I urged them to take risks, to think big, to put themselves in the wish grantee’s shoes. We talked about how awesome it would have been for Ethan to walk into the room and actually imagine himself being in that room in the Louvre.

I challenged my students that they were capable of recreating that room, and that they missed an opportunity. Not an opportunity to make my son happy, but an opportunity to prove to themselves they could make it happen.

(I felt like what I imagine an Indiana High School basketball coach feels like after a HUGE halftime speech to energize his players).

Playing the Wish Game Again

One student did raise his hand and suggested it was really difficult for 27 students to feel engaged in one wish. Another student piggybacked on this and suggested we split the class into two groups, so that 26 students could have wishes granted instead of just 13. YES!!!!!

We split the class into two groups. I drew two pieces of paper. One had the following three wishes:

  • Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
  • Repel down the clock tower at John Carroll University
  • Sail around the world

The group decided to deliver the wish about the clock tower. This is the highest point on our campus. It will be basically impossible for them to pull this off in reality because nobody is allowed in the clock tower (due to liability concerns), but I’m excited to see what they come up with for this!

Administration Building (ca. 2003), John Carroll University

The other piece of paper had the following three wishes:

  • Pitch at a Chicago Cubs game
  • Start a successful business
  • Win the lottery

The other group decided to deliver the wish about pitching at a Cubs game. Again, not at all possible to deliver in reality, but I’m excited to see what they come up with.

Thoughts on The Wish Game

The experience so far has been what I hoped. The students struggled to grasp the concept. Some jumped in and tried with my son’s wish. They failed at delivering an effective wish, they realized the potential they have, and became very excited .

As one student mentioned to me on the way out of class:

“We are 27 John Carroll University MBA students in an entrepreneurship class. If we can’t take advantage of this opportunity, shame on us. We are excited to do better”

In what I take to be a very good signal for the future of The Wish Game, 12 students emailed me after class Tuesday evening (after 10pm) with three new wishes and asked if they could update their wishes because their original ones were not big enough! This is going to be a fun journey.

An Added Wrinkle Beyond The Wish Game

I knew that The Wish Game wouldn’t be enough for an MBA level entrepreneurship course. I firmly believe it is a vessel in which students can practice critical entrepreneurial skills while practicing generosity and giving. But I was worried it would not be sufficient workload for them.

After we debriefed my son’s wish delivery and before selecting new wishes for the next week, I talked to my students about entrepreneurship in reality. I told them that most people start entrepreneurial projects, ideas, products, services as a side hustle. They had their 9-to-5 gig that paid the bills and gave them stability, but they practiced and built their passion in the off hours and on the weekends.

I told my students that The Wish Game was our 9-to-5 gig that paid the bills; each week they turn in a reflection on that week’s experience, that I grade with the following rubric.

Just like entrepreneurs who work on their side hustle, I want students to have the opportunity to work on ideas they are passionate about. I asked students to share a 30 second video in a discussion board on our learning management system about an idea they are passionate about.

Specifically, I asked them to state the problem they want to solve, what group of people experience that problem, and what their solution to that problem is. I asked students to watch every video, and let me know the top three ideas they want to work on.

This semester I will give my students the tools through our learning management system and guide any of them who want guidance through the journey of turning their ideas into reality; this will happen mostly outside of class time and will not be graded.

This is an opportunity for them to engage or not, to make choices about how they spend their time and resources. Much like an entrepreneur must decide how to spend her time – with family or building a business – and his resources – on a vacation or building a business.

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

We will run a series of blog posts highlighting Doan’s journey throughout his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.

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Steve Blank: An Interview with Your Questions

Steve Blank: An Interview with Your Questions

Steve BlankSteve Blank is one of the most influential people in modern entrepreneurship education, and he wants to answer your questions about teaching entrepreneurship.

In addition to being a successful (and more importantly failed) entrepreneur, Steve is the creator of customer development, an instructor at Stanford, UC Berkeley, NYU and Columbia, the developer of Lean Launchpad and helped popularize the Business Model Canvas. Steve has graciously agreed to speak with us, the TeachingEntrepreneurship.org community, about how he:

  • Increases student engagement
  • Helps students conduct high quality customer interviews
  • Ditches the textbook and makes entrepreneurship classes real
  • Sees the future of entrepreneurship education

Steve will be accepting the entrepreneurship education lifetime achievement award at this year’s USASBE conference and agreed to sit down for an interview with us about how to continue innovating the way we teach innovation and entrepreneurship.

Interview with Steve Blank

The Future of Real Entrepreneurship Education

Ask Steve anything about entrepreneurship education.

Click here to:

  • Submit your entrepreneurship education question for Steve
  • Get a free recording of the interview
  • Get updates on a possible live stream of the interview

Who is Steve Blank?

Even if you haven’t heard of Steve, you’ve probably heard of some of the tools he’s helped introduce to modern entrepreneurship education:

Steve is first and foremost an entrepreneur, both successful and failed. After his two major entrepreneurial failures, one dotcom home run, and several base hits, he retired from entrepreneurship and began teaching. As he codified what distinguished his entrepreneurial successes from his failures, he developed the process of customer development, which is now the bedrock of much of today’s entrepreneurship education.

Steve has taught customer development at Stanford, Columbia, NYU, and UC Berkeley, at one point teaching a young man named Eric Ries. Ries, inspired by Steve’s customer development framework, combined it with another tool that Steve popularized – Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas – and agile software development to form the three pillars of what would become known as Lean Startup.

Customer development, the Business Model Canvas, and Lean Startup are all possible and/or popularized because of Steve, and have revolutionized the way entrepreneurship is executed and taught throughout the world.

We couldn’t be more excited to sit down with him and ask him your questions, as well as our own, about the future of entrepreneurship education.

Interview with Steve Blank

The Future of Real Entrepreneurship Education

Ask Steve anything about entrepreneurship education

 

For more on Steve check out his amazing blog or his manifesto on customer development, The Startup Owner’s Manual.


To see a fully experiential entrepreneurship curriculum inspired by Steve’s customer development methodology, check out ExEC.


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Surveys Have No Place in Entrepreneurship Classes

Surveys Have No Place in Entrepreneurship Classes

Gathering information from customers is the most valuable skill an entrepreneur can practice.

Two common methods for collecting that information are surveys and customer interviews. Customer interviews are, hands down, more valuable for entrepreneurs than surveys because they:

  • Provide the depth of insight to validate problem hypotheses
  • Provide emotionally driven marketing copy from the customer’s perspective
  • Identify high potential marketing channels
  • Identify realistic competitors, and competitive advantages
  • Provide potential pivot opportunities, by eliciting alternative problems to solve if hypothesized problem is not one customers are seeking a solution to

The qualitative nature of interview-based research gives entrepreneurs the chance to dive deeply into the problems and emotions a potential customer is feeling. It’s those feelings that the entrepreneur will ultimately resolve that will lead to their success.

Surveys in entrepreneurship classes, on the other hand, largely avoid addressing customers’ underlying emotional needs, because few, if any, potential customers will complete a survey about their feelings. Instead, customer surveys in entrepreneurship classes often use leading questions in an attempt to do the impossible – predict future customer behavior:

  • Would you use a product that does ______________?
  • How often would you use a product that does ________________?
  • How much would you pay for a product that does ______________?

The result of these surveys is that students either confirm their bias that there’s high demand for their product without discovering the emotional ways customers describe their problems, or they conclude there isn’t sufficient demand, leaving them without any actionable next steps either way.

Validation surveys provide no actionable marketing strategy if demand is “confirmed”, and no potential pivots if demand is “invalidated.”

While surveys have the allure of producing statistically significant data, statistically significant data on people’s predictions of their own behavior aren’t worth anything – especially in terms of business model validation. If we really want to answer questions like how much customer will pay for a product, there are far more effective ways of doing that than surveys, for example, selling pre-orders.

If we believe interviews are a far more powerful tool than surveys for business model validation, the question becomes:

How do we show students interviews are more powerful than surveys?

In our Surveys vs. Interviews Lesson Plan, we provide an experience that will demonstrate to your students just how much more effective interviews are than surveys, by having them complete both experiences, and compare them.

As a part of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we recommend that before this lesson, students complete the following lessons:

  • Emotionally Intelligent Innovation. Here they learn that customer problems are the most effective place to look for value propositions, and
  • Idea Generation. Here they hypothesize the customers for whom they are uniquely suited to solve problems, and they hypothesize the problems they are uniquely suited to solve

With this background, they begin figuring out how to test those hypotheses.

Step 1: Problem Survey

Before class, ask your students to complete a Challenges Survey (find a sample in the lesson plan). Your students will be asked questions about the problems they face and how they have tried solving those problems.

In ExEC, we provide results from thousands of students at the universities using the curriculum so you can highlight how difficult it is to validate hypotheses about problems students face using a survey. What we find, and what your students will likely produce, are:

  • Low volume of responses
  • Short answers, with little emotional depth
  • Some responses aren’t even comprehendible

Step 2: Surveys vs. Interviews

Start class discussing with students the pros and cons of asking customers about their problems using surveys and using interviews. Each method of validation has pros and cons, as highlighted below. After the discussion, show this table and highlight any relevant points. Let students know they will now experience these differences.

Surveys Pros Surveys Cons Customer Interview Pros Customer Interview Cons
Fast Difficult to get responses to open-ended questions Higher quality information Takes longer to facilitate than surveys
Can produce statistically significant results Don’t provide insights on an emotional level Significant emotional depth Results aren’t statistically significant
Difficult to probe/ask follow-up questions Probe as deeply as necessary by asking follow-up questions
Often expensive (in time and money) to collect enough quantitative data to be statistically significant Can explore multiple problems

 

Step 3: Discuss Their Survey Experience

In the lesson plan, we guide you through a conversation with your students about this surveying experience. First, discuss why some students did not complete it. Then transfer those reasons to customers from whom they want to gather information. Next discuss what it felt like completing the survey, and how much emotional depth they provided.

Step 4: Interview Experience

We then guide you through introducing your students to customer interviewing. In groups, students will experience being interviewed, interviewing, and taking notes/observing. In these groups, students will ask and answer the same exact same questions from the survey, but in a format that’s much more conducive to problem validation.

Step 5: Compare their Survey vs Interview Experiences

The lesson ends with a discussion, focused on two key points:

  • Comparing the quality and depth of information gathered through each method, and
  • Comparing the ability to validate problem hypotheses using the information gathered through teach method

This is where the magic happens, as you reveal that in both their survey and interviews, they answered the exact same questions. As professor Emma Fleck told us after this lesson:

“I genuinely feel that this was a light bulb moment in my class. Students were frustrated and angry about this survey and didn’t see the point. However, 2 days later, when we did this as customer interviews, I was able to illustrate to them how much I could learn from using a different format with customers. They really started to understand as many of them had taken marketing research classes and were convinced that all of their customer learning would come from surveys!! Great exercise.”

Key Takeaways

This is a powerful lesson for students as they begin their entrepreneurial journey. It engages them in two important methods for gathering information to validate aspects of their business model. But more importantly, it offers two benefits:

  • Students feel the benefit of interviewing as a hypothesis validation tool.
  • Students practice customer interviewing. They learn how to be able to talk to anyone about their problems, so they can put themselves in a position to solve them.

 

Below is the complete lesson plan of the Surveys vs. Interviews exercise.


Get the “Surveys vs. Interviews” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Surveys vs. Interviews” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 


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Engage your Students: Ask About Their Fears and Curiosities

Engage your Students: Ask About Their Fears and Curiosities

We are going to help you get students bought into your course by understanding their fears and curiosities.

Learning increases exponentially when we put the information and skills into a context that is top-of-mind for our students. In other words,

Put your course material into a context that matters for your students, and the learning comes alive.

We work very hard to understand what context matters to our students. But we often don’t even scratch the surface. Most students keep an emotional distance from their professor and hesitate to discuss their context.

To discover the context that matters to the students, we need to understand what is top-of-mind for them. We can then place the learning in their “right now” context. Student learning will soar. The classroom will buzz with excited energy.

Understanding what’s on students’ minds requires only two simple questions.

What Are You Thinking About Right Now

This post is an effective way to understand what is on students minds right now. For full details, check out the complete lesson plan.

Stop for a moment: what are you thinking about right now, at this very moment?

What is top-of-mind for any of us at any given moment are the things we are afraid of and those we are curious about. Here are some fears you might have right now:

  • Embarrassing yourself in that class you’re teaching in 10 minutes
  • Your manuscript you submitted two months ago will get rejected
  • You’re not spending enough time with your children
  • You are about to buy the wrong house.

The fears on your mind right now might be big or small, but they are there.

You are also curious about a variety of things right now. Here are some things you might be curious about right now:

  • What is for dinner?
  • Will I get tenure?
  • How does [fill in name of professor you look up to] relate so well to his/her students?
  • Should you get a labrador retriever or a Jack Russell Terrier? (Doan recommends a lab!)

The things you’re curious about right now might be big or small, but they are there, alongside the fears. This is true of you, and it’s also true of the students sitting in your class. In the lesson plan we offer below, we talk about how to leverage this to get your students bought in. Here is a quick overview.

What Are Your Students Afraid of Right Now

To begin, give each student a stack of post-it notes and a Sharpie. Give students the same color post-it notes and Sharpie (so there is anonymity). The Sharpie is so they can fit very few words on the post-it note. What we want here is the essence of what they are thinking.

Step 1:

Ask students “When you think of life after college, what are you afraid of?” and instruct them to write one thought per post-it note. Tell them that putting their fears into the world can be scary. That is why you’re not asking them to speak them, or to put their name on the notes. If students believe they are sharing their fears anonymously, they are more likely to be honest.

Share a few of the things you are fearful of at this moment – make sure you share some “little” fears and some “big” fears.

Make a strong point that quantity is the goal, not quality. Urge students to get as many fears onto post-it notes as they can

Tell them when they finish to hand you all their fear post-it notes. Your job is to stick them randomly on a wall – do not group them by student, but mix them up all over a large wall.

Step 2:

Ask the students to organize the notes into fear clouds by grouping them together by general category/theme, without talking. Give them a few examples – things relating to budgeting money, or to making friends, or to being happy. Then ask students to name the groups.

**NOTE: You may have to help them by aggregating some categories. For instance, you will likely have many categories that relate to financial management. Combine all those into one “Financial Management” category

Here are the fear categories Doan has assembled over many years’ of his courses:

Fear CategoryExample Statement% of Total Mentions
Financial Management"Not making enough money"22
Getting a Job"Not being able to find a job"15
Job Dissatisfaction"Not being happy at work."11
Job Performance"Not performing well in my job."8
Relationships (losing)"Growing apart from friends and family."6
Purpose"Not chasing my dreams."5.5
Work/Life Balance"Not having enough time to actually live life how I want."5
Moving"Where will I live?"4
Happiness"Not being happy with my life."3.5
Relationships (making)"Making friends in new locations."3.5
Growth"Not being prepared to live alone."3
Failure"How can I deal with rejection effectively?"2.5
Missing an Opportunity"Regretting not doing something."2
Value of College"Was classroom knowledge actually useful?"2
Reputation"How can I manage my professional reputation?"1
Success"Not being successful."1

Step 3:

Show your students how the material and skills they will learn and practice in your course map onto the things they are currently afraid of.

For instance, if you’re teaching cash flow management or startup financials, relate that to the Financial Management category (how to budget, how it applies to buying a house, etc).

When you teach customer interviewing, talk about how that skill will help them form and strengthen relationships, and how they can use that skill to build a network and identify a job that will give them a sense of purpose.

Show students how the knowledge they will acquire and the skills they will practice apply to the things they are afraid of right now.

What Are Your Students Curious About Right Now

Now we want to shift gears and focus on some fun stuff – what are they curious about? Identify that being curious can sometimes make them feel vulnerable. That is why you’re not asking them to speak their curiosities, or to put their name on the notes. If students believe they are sharing their curiosities anonymously, they are more likely to be honest.

Share a few of the things you are curious about at this moment. Make sure you share some “little” curiosities and some “big” curiosities.

Make a strong point that quantity is the goal, not quality. Urge students to get as many curiosities onto post-it notes as they can.

You will complete the same process you went through with the fears – for full details, check out the complete lesson plan.

Step 4:

Ask students “When you think of life after college, what are you curious about?” and instruct them to write one thought per post-it note. Tell them when they finish to give you all their curiosity post-it notes. Your job is to stick them randomly on a wall away from the fear clouds.

Step 5:

Ask the students to organize the notes into curiosity clouds by grouping them together by general category/theme. Give them a few examples – things relating to getting a job, work-life balance, paying off student loans. Then ask students to name the groups.

**NOTE: You may have to help them by aggregating some categories. For instance, you will likely have many categories that relate to financial management (such as paying off student loans, investing, budgeting). Combine all those into one “Financial Management” category

Here are the curiosity categories Doan has assembled over many years’ of his courses:

Curiosity CategoryExample Statement% of Total Mentions
Financial Management"How do I budget for life after college?"23
Job Search"What is the best way to find a job I love?"14
Where To Live"Where am I going to live?"10
Job Fit"How to find a job that will make me happy and still make money."7
Education"How do I apply classroom material to real-life scenarios?"6
Job Switch"How long should I stay at my first job if it isn't my dream job?"5
Relationships (making)"How to create professional relationships."4
Work/Life Balance"How can I best manage my work and social life?"3.5
Job Choice"What will I do for a living?"3
Skills"What skill will make me stand out?"3
Networking"How to build a network."2.5
Start a Business"How to afford starting a business?"2
How to Negotiate"How to negotiate the terms of a job."2
Promotion"How do I move up in a company?"2
Happiness"How important is happiness in a workplace?"2
Relationships (keeping)"Will I stay in touch with my friends?"1.5
Success"How can I become successful?"1
Gain Experience"How to gain more experience."1
Purpose"How do I find something I love to do?"1
Benefits"How does insurance work?"1
Travel"Should I travel when I'm young?"1
Internships"How to get an internship."1

Step 6:

Show your students how the material and skills they will learn and practice in your course map onto the things they are currently curious about.

For instance, if you’re teaching prototyping, talk about how they can test out jobs by job shadowing or interning.

When you teach ideation, show them how those skills can help them identify their purpose, find a good job fit, or start a business.

Show students how the application of the skills they will practice applies to the things they are curious about right now.

Your Course in Students’ Context

Return next class session with the fear and curiosity categories mapped onto the content/lessons/modules/skills you cover in the course. For instance, if you lay out each week in your syllabus with the topics you will cover, add one column for “Fears” and one for “Curiosities”. List in each column the fear and curiosity categories to which each particular topic relates.

This last step is the most critical. It is your chance to reinforce the connection between the course material and the things your students are currently thinking about. Show them how you will give them the tools to address each one of their fears, and each one of their curiosities.

Students Now Have the Context to Launch

After this activity, your students will understand the value of the what they are about to learn. They will be more engaged, because the learning is now very real for them.

Below is the complete lesson plan of the Student Fears and Curiosities exercise.


Get the “Student Fears and Curiosities” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Student Fears and Curiosities” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 


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Wish Game: Entrepreneurship Through Giving Back

Wish Game: Entrepreneurship Through Giving Back

Rebeca Hwang recently introduced us to The Wish Game – an exercise she uses in her E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class at Stanford University. We all want to increase the intensity and success of teamwork in our courses. Through this exercise, Rebeca accomplished just that.

After hearing Rebeca share about this exercise, our co-founder Doan Winkel realized it could be so much more. He saw it as a transformative entrepreneurship training ground. Doan transformed his upcoming MBA class into one semester-long Wish Game. He will be sharing his journey throughout the Spring semester – follow the journey to see how it goes.

The Wish Game As An Exercise

“Every week, I was looking forward to the Wish Game. It created a sense of excitement all around.” – ENGR145 Student

Step 1: Sharing Wishes

On the first day of class, Rebeca asks students to write down three wishes on one piece of paper. She encourages no boundaries here; examples Rebeca shared include meeting Mark Zuckerberg, or getting a job at Google.

Throughout her E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class, Rebeca chooses one person’s paper from a hat and the rest of the class, working as one, fulfills that wish. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Paying it forward is a critical part of the Wish Game and an overall goal Rebeca has to WOW her students.

In Rebeca’s class, The Wish Game is about hyper-collaboration; if her students work together under considerable constraints, they all benefit. 

Step 2: Planning the Wish

When a wish is picked, students interview the student whose wish was picked. Their goal is to dig beneath the surface of the chosen student’s wish. Rebeca reported that often what the chosen student wants isn’t exactly what they wrote on the paper.

Through this process, students build stronger relationships with each other, and understand the hopes and dreams of each other.

Students practice their interviewing skills each week as they work to better understand how to deliver a truly amazing experience for the chosen student. 

Through planning and executing wishes, The Wish Game:

  • pushes students to think about what resources and assets they have,
  • pushes them to share those with peers
  • enables students to build lasting relationships, and
  • enables students to positively impact on each other.

The Wish Game as a Course

“When I heard Rebeca describe The Wish Game, I sat up straight in my chair and began scribbling ideas on my notebook. I immediately understood the potential this exercise had to be the perfect playground for my entrepreneurship students.” – Doan Winkel

Step 1: Sharing Wishes

The first thing Doan will do in Day 1 of his MBA class (held for 3 hours once per week) is to ask students to imagine their three biggest wishes. He will encourage his students to write down the ones that scare them or make them a little giddy when they imagine that reality. To model this, he will share his three big wishes:

  • Have a conversation with his sister Laura, who died more than 20 years ago
  • Step foot on Saturn
  • Hit the winning shot in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game

Step 2: Planning the Wish

Doan will invite students to talk through how they would plan his wish to step foot on Saturn.

wish game example

He will push them to think creatively about how they would create that scenario. Doan will challenge them to get into an uncomfortable place in terms of what they think they can accomplish and what they think is possible. His main tool here would be “What if . . .” prompts to push the students to think bigger, or to believe they can execute their ideas.

At the end of this discussion, he will lay out the course structure, as follows, for each subsequent week:

  1. Doan will pick a piece of paper at the beginning of Week 2.
  2. Students will select a leader – a student in charge of strategy and execution.
  3. Students interview the chosen student to better understand the desire for the wish, because often what people share about their hopes and dreams is only surface-level. Doan wants his students to practice digging deep beneath that surface to understand the impetus for the wish. By perfecting their interviewing skills, the students will be more capable of delivering value to their “customer” (the student getting the wish granted in this case).
  4. Once students feel they have a good understanding of the true wish, Doan will excuse the chosen student for the week so the remaining students can plan the wish.
  5. Students plan the wish and deliver it at the beginning of the next class (one week later).
  6. Rinse and repeat; Doan chooses another student and the process begins again.
  7. If one student significantly helps fulfill a wish, that student gets his/her wish fulfilled next. Otherwise, Doan will choose another piece of paper for the subsequent week.

Doan will encourage students to mobilize their resources each week. This could take the form of money (he will set the expectation that each student should contribute $10 to each wish). He will help students understand how to use their network. Perhaps people in their network could contribute advice, or materials, or participation.

Step 3: Assessing the Wish

Doan will assess students in two ways.

  1. Each chosen student will write a reflection one-pager, sharing his/her perspective of the experience, and grading the accuracy and the impact of the delivered wish.
  2. Each student who delivered the wish will write a reflection one-pager, sharing his/her perspective of the experience and grading their effort in that wish delivery.

The Wish Game as Entrepreneurship

What excited Doan so much about Rebeca’s Wish Game exercise was the possibility of his students practicing entrepreneurship skills while doing something impactful for others. Each week, students will practice, at minimum, the following skills that are critical elements of entrepreneurship education:

  • develop and evaluate ideas
  • interview customers
  • iteratively prototype under time constraints
  • mobilize and deploy limited resources
  • presentation
  • reflection

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

We will run a series of blog posts highlighting Doan’s journey throughout his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.

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Personal Business Plan

Personal Business Plan

Rebeca Hwang recently told us about an exercise she uses at Stanford University where students create a business plan about themselves. The Personal Business Plan (PBP) is an exercise created by Tom Kosnik that has helped turn Rebeca’s E145 Technology Entrepreneurship class into:

“This was by far the best course I have taken at Stanford, absolutely amazing curriculum.”

Rebeca explains the PBP is a way for students to apply the tools learned during their entrepreneurship course to something near and dear to their hearts…themselves!

To make the elements of the business model relevant, faculty force students to think of themselves as a company. Students do this assignment individually, and ultimately must figure out how they offer value to their world.

“The entrepreneurial process is at its core concerned with ‘the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources already under control.’ This process is as applicable to your career as it is to starting a company. The goal of this assignment is to identify where you want to be and how you will get there. Do not worry about your current resources. Think about this with an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Most important of all, the assignment works, and Rebeca’s students love it.

“make sure you spend a lot of time on the personal business plan, it is worth it! I wish I had spent more time on mine, and will in the future because I think it’s very valuable to think about what your plans and possibilities for life are.”

“Through the personal business plan, it really helped reevaluate what I desire and would like to pursue in life.”

Below is an overview of the Personal Business Plan assignment. For full details, check out the complete lesson plan below.

The Personal Business Plan

Students write at most five (5) pages answering questions about their future vision (such as “What are your values?” and “What personal or professional skills would you most like to develop?”) and about their present plans and passions (such as “What opportunities could help you to achieve your future vision?” and “How will you reach, connect with or influence your customers?”). The full question sets are available in the lesson plan.

In addition to answering these questions, students include at least one exhibit within their five (5) page limit, which can be “any combination of graphics or quantitative analysis [they] desire”.

Examples of exhibits professors give students are:

  • A resume (current and/or future)
  • A decision tree showing paths to a number of future career options
  • A specific “short list” of attractive jobs, company names, and key audiences
  • Segmentation of different organizations’ readiness to accept your value package using Geoffrey Moore’s adopter categories
  • A chart addressing the risks, mitigation strategies, etc. associated with your Reality Test

Faculty give students required and recommended readings/viewings to help them prepare an effective Personal Business Plan, all of which are available in the full lesson plan.

In using sources, guide students with the following:

“Failure to use at least one concept from one of the readings will lower your grade. We will reward skill and creativity in applying the concepts with higher grades. On the other hand, don’t get carried away with citing too many sources. We are less interested in having you paraphrase what other people think and more interested in seeing how you think.”

Grading the Personal Business Plan

A team of two graders reads each PBP. One grades in detail, the other reads to make sure the first grader is not too difficult or too easy a grader.

Because this assignment is about trust at its core, students choose who grades their assignment.

Students are reminded that the grade is not an evaluation of their choice of career path or current life plan, and that only they can decide if their choices will bring them happiness and success.

Professor Tom Kosnik developed a robust grading rubric for this assignment, which is included at the end of the lesson plan.

Because this assignment is worth 20% of their grade, students take it very seriously. Because this assignment is about them and their future, students invest tremendously in it, and receive incredible value from doing it.

We are grateful to Rebeca Hwang, Tom Kosnik, and the faculty who teach E145 Technology Entrepreneurship at Stanford University for sharing this amazing exercise.

Key Takeaways

Because students are applying business model components to themselves, they deeply engage in learning these components and have a very clear understanding how to apply them.

Through this assignment, students will learn to see themselves as a company, and that they must continuously invest in and develop a plan for. They will also deeply embrace the tools and methodologies they learned in the course because they are applying them to their future. They will see that learning is meaningful when applied to a personal context.


Get the “Personal Business Plan” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Personal Business Plan” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.

Get the Lesson Plan

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.

 


Get our Next Free Lesson Plan

We email new experiential entrepreneurship lesson plans regularly.

Subscribe here to get our next lesson plan in your inbox!

Join 4,800+ instructors. Get new lesson plans via email.