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Pivoting the Wish Game: The Reality of Entrepreneurship

Pivoting the Wish Game: The Reality of Entrepreneurship

“Can I take this class again?”

The student wasn’t asking because she enjoyed the class so much. She was asking because she realized she missed the opportunity. This is confirmation that I am creating a powerful experience for my students. And confirmation that I need to do a better job introducing it.

As we near the end of the semester, I see changes in my Wish Game course experiment. It began as a grand vision, with a ton of anxious excitement from me and my students.

It is morphing into a transformational experience for students.

Let’s catch up on the wishes and experience over the past month. I learned a few valuable lessons over these weeks:

  • I can give student too much agency (I need to provide closer guidance)
  • Singular focus on granting wishes all semester is probably too much; balance is better
  • Students prefer safety
  • Maybe wishes for others would be a better learning experience than personal wishes

Granting Wishes

A few weeks back, as is our pattern, we were granting two wishes per week. This particular week the two wishes were:

  • Take the money that would be spent on a wish to a casino and let it ride on blackjack.
  • Be on stage with Skrillex and Marshmello at Ultra Music Festival in Miami.

The first was extremely straightforward. As students interviewed the grantee for this one, they tried to encourage her to pick a more challenging wish, but she stood her ground. She loves the energy and excitement of the casino. The group granting her wish handed her $150 cash the night of class and she and two classmates headed to the casino. She reported back that she taught her classmates about blackjack and roulette, and ended up winning a few bucks along the way.

Image result for blackjack creative commons

This wish presented no problem in terms of execution. It did, however, present problems within the group. There was some conflict about whether to grant the wish the grantee asked for, or to go bigger and get creative. I have been encouraging the students to think big, to take a risk. But in this case, because the grantee so adamantly stated she just wanted cash to go to the casino, the group delivered the wish. Through customer interviewing, the students understood the grantee’s desire for the emotional experience of a casino trip, and they granted it.

The other wish that week was for a student to be on stage with Skrillex and Marshmello at Ultra Music Festival in Miami. This wish was technically possible because that festival was happening in the future from the week they were granting this wish. The students got right to work interviewing the grantee to understand why he wanted this wish.

As I always do, I encouraged students to use their network to actually accomplish this wish.

I pointed out that one John Carroll alum, who was just on campus speaking not long ago, was a very successful DJ – Mick Batyske. I gave the students his cell number and encouraged them to reach out as he would likely have some connections to the festival organizers and/or Skrillex and Marshmello. They did not reach out!

The group decided pretty quickly it was too expensive – airfare, lodging, festival tickets, etc. As far as I could tell from conversations I overheard and from reflections I read, they did not consider or act on the possibility of asking for donations or hustling up some alternative solutions. They quickly moved from the big plan (deliver the actual wish) to a skeleton of the wish. This group ended up putting on a Marshmello “show” at one student’s house – they created some ambiance with music, lights, had pizza to eat. They also got the grantee a Marshmello hat.

Image result for marshmello creative commons

What Went Wrong

I pound at students that their network is much larger and easier to activate than they think. Coworkers, John Carroll alum, high school friends, family connections, hometown connections, and the list goes on. I get disappointed watching students spend 30 minutes in class brainstorming how to execute delivering a wish. They don’t spend much time strategizing how to activate their network.

This week I realized (duh!!) I should model that for them.

I committed that during the last group of wishes I would pick one wish and grant it myself, showing them how it could be done. I hope this lights a fire as they realize what could have been, and encourages them to take the risk, to dive in the next time an opportunity presents itself.

Next Wishes

The next wishes proved some interesting lessons for myself and the students.

  • Travel to Ireland.
  • Have Chipotle for life.

For the trip to Ireland, the group quickly learned that the grantee doesn’t have a passport, and is very anxious about flying (having never flown before). They quickly ruled out actually sending him to Ireland that week 🙂

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Through their interviews, they learned about his connection to Ireland, his dreams of what a trip there would entail, and highlights that would be meaningful to him. After a week of planning, they did their best to recreate the feel of Ireland in a room through decorations, music, and scenery. They also provided the grantee some gifts to commemorate his “trip” – a wool blanket, some Guinness, an Irish stone. The grantee was beaming as they showed a Photoshopped slideshow in class of his “trip” to the magical Irish destinations he dreamed of going.

The next wish was considerably more difficult – the student wanted Chipotle for life! Some students discussed what “for life” means – I can’t blame them for looking for the easy path. Eventually, the group coalesced around trying to actually grant the wish. They asked me about approaching the President of John Carroll to send a letter to the CEO of Chipotle. I advised them that would not be very realistic, especially within a week.

The students did reach out to another member of the leadership team at John Carroll to send a note to the Chipotle CEO. The response was a fantastic learning lesson for us all:

Thanks for reaching out.  I am not inclined to get involved in this activity as I don’t see any realistic role that I could play.  I don’t know the full context of your assignment but I would offer the following observations.
  1. The Ignatian characteristic of men and women with and for others, is meant to be directed at the poor and marginalized in our society, so not applicable in this context.
  2. Asking Chipotle executives for free food for an MBA student doesn’t appear to be a very compelling rationale on the face of it.  What is in it for them or their company?  If you are going to make this pitch, you’d better be creating value for them.  Would you make this a viral video, etc.?
During debrief, we had a rich discussion about Jesuit values, about privilege and philanthropy, about right and wrong, and many other related topics. It opened my eyes to the potential danger in this exercise, in terms of encouraging students to be very selfish and to expend resources on seemingly frivolous gifts.
We as a class decided after much discussion that the exercise was not about the selfishness of wishes, but about the generosity of granting wishes.

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I encouraged students to think small to go big with this wish. I often hold myself back from offering suggestions. As my frustration with their inability to go big grew, I couldn’t hold back this time.

I encouraged them to figure out the Chipotle meal the grantee likes (let’s say it costs $6), and how many weeks he will be alive (let’s say 2,500). I then suggested each member of the group ask 10 people to each buy one $6 Chipotle gift card, and to ask those people to each ask 10 people to buy one, and so on. If they each started with 10, that would immediately be 140, and if each of those got 10 more people, that would be 1,400, and so on. Ultimately, they reported it didn’t work because their friends didn’t want to contribute money. Ultimately, they didn’t sell it. Instead, they bought him a $150 Chipotle gift card.

This wish provided a great learning opportunity on a much deeper level, but also a reminder that the students are still struggling to get uncomfortable and really push their boundaries of what is possible.

Adjusting the Pace

Students brought up that if they had two weeks to do wishes, they could deliver more impactful experiences. In their minds, time was the most valuable resource, which they were lacking. After some very rich discussion about evaluating and leveraging resources, we decided that each of the two groups (14 students in each) would deliver wishes every other week. The caveat was that each group had to deliver two wishes every other week so that each student got a wish during the semester.

Fun Note: Students argues that since wishes were due every other week, they should only have to turn in reflection papers every other week. When I told them those papers every other week would be worth double (so the total course points stayed the same) they balked. I explained that everyone benefited under this because they had to write 1/2 as much for the same grade and I had to grade 1/2 as much. But they chose to keep writing the reflection papers each week.

A New Pace of Wishes

We jumped into this new pace of granting four wishes every other week. The next wishes were:

  • Dive with great white sharks
  • Meet Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns quarterback and 1st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft)
  • Play a round of golf at Augusta National Golf Club with Tiger Woods
  • Drive a Jaguar F-Type 2016

These wishes seemed to me to be quite challenging. The students seemed invigorated because they had more time to plan and execute – I hoped that meant they would be able to deliver a more impactful wish experience.

Each group of ~14 split into two groups of ~7 and started interviewing grantees and planning for wish granting. For the shark diving wish, the group found out that the grantee had a trip planned with her husband to Thailand in the summer. They found a company near where they would be in Thailand that offered swim-with-the-sharks package, although not with Great Whites.

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The group gave the grantee enough cash for her and her husband to purchase a package, and gave it to her in a bag that included suntan lotion, a snorkeling mask, and an underwater disposable camera. It was a very thoughtful presentation, and the grantee expressed sincere gratitude about their thoughtfulness to enhance her trip with her husband. She promised to send pictures with the sharks!

Meeting Baker Mayfield was going to be tough, because since it is the football off-season, he is not in Cleveland at the time. However, two students had connections to Baker through friends, so I was excited that they may be able to pull something off.

Image result for baker mayfield

I’m always doing what I can to create a safe space for them to go big. In this case, I would wander by the group brainstorming and say things like “he could use a private jet to come back” or “maybe the Browns will fly [the wish grantee] out as a PR stunt”. Ultimately, the students didn’t reach out to Baker, but just handed the grantee an authentic Baker Mayfield jersey. I was disappointed that they seemingly mailed it in.

During the debrief we discussed how they could have been more persistent with their network, and how it’s OK to do that as long as it’s respectful and transparent.

The next wish to be granted was to play round of golf at Augusta National Golf Club with Tiger Woods. This wish approached the realm of impossible more than any other, and the students quickly knew it. This is one of the biggest celebrities on the planet, and this is the most exclusive golf course in the world. And the Master’s was fast approaching.

Image result for amen corner augusta

The students quickly decided it wasn’t going to happen, so they set about with Plan B. In interviewing the grantee, they discovered his passion for playing golf, and for learning from people he plays with, from watching videos and live golf. They realized the two elements of this desire were to play an exclusive golf course and to play with someone who was really, really, really good.

Their Plan B wasn’t half bad. They purchased a framed picture of a famous hole at Augusta National Golf Club, and gave the grantee a t-shirt with Tiger Woods’ mugshot printed on it. They used their connections to get him and a friend a round of golf at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

The last wish from this batch was to drive a Jaguar F-Type 2016. The team tried contacting rental agencies, but could not find any in the area that had this particular car.

They next contacted Jaguar dealerships, but they won’t allow test drives of this car without a hefty fee. One student found this car for rent about an hour away on Turo.com (I never heard of this site, but it’s an incredible marketplace!). After much discussion with the owner, they realized he required at least a 2-day rental, and with all the fees it would have been close to $700. Additionally, they discovered the driver needed to be 25 (for insurance purposes) which the grantee wasn’t. One student offered to drive to rent it and chauffeur the grantee around, but the expense was just too high. When it came time to present the grantee’s wish in class, the group had nothing. They explained their process and apologized for failing. It was awkward, and a shame the grantee left without anything.

This experience enabled a deep discussion about failing. The students didn’t feel good about being the only group to not deliver some form of the wish. The grantee was gracious, but I could tell he was disappointed. We discussed how failure happens all the time, and is a learning opportunity. The group learned that part of their failure was waiting until the last minute; they iterated through many plans, but because they waited until the last minute, they ran out of time and were unable to do anything.

Another Batch of Wishes

The next batch of four wishes were

  • Visit the Amalfi coast in Italy
  • Get $3,000 for a Jeep for job in Uganda (this grantee had raised $6,000 already and needed $3,000 more to purchase the Jeep)
  • Play a round of golf with Charles Howell III
  • To learn to ski and own a cafè

The groups attacked the wishes with their usual gusto. They sat down to interview the grantees to understand the motivation for the wish. The class seemed energized – perhaps it was better to give them longer to grant the wish!

For the Amalfi coast the group discovered the grantee was going to be in Italy this summer with family. Taking a creative approach, they planned out a few days in the Amalfi coast region for the grantee and a guest and presented her with a detailed agenda and enough cash to cover the cost of all the activities.

They planned all the details based on the information they gathered from interviewing the grantee – job well done!

The group granting the wish to get $3,000 for a Jeep for the grantee’s job in Uganda faced an uphill battle. $3,000 in two weeks isn’t easy. They immediately decided on doing a GoFundMe campaign – check it out here. They interviewed the grantee, but realized as they started building the campaign that they needed more information and a video. The group struggled with communication issues – they couldn’t get all the information they needed, and had difficulty producing a high quality video. Eventually they launched the campaign, but not until right before the class when they were to present it. They explained that they started the GoFundMe, and would keep it open through the semester, hoping to generate $3,000.

I did not hear much about promotion. The group focused on execution and getting the campaign live, but neglected planning promotion efforts to drive interest in and traffic to the campaign. They could have utilized campus media to spread the opportunity to students, faculty and staff. Social media provides another valuable outlet to share the goal with their network, as well as with JCU alum and other parties who might be interested in supporting. The group shared how surprised they were at how complicated this effort was. We discussed how people see the “skin” of an effort – the website, the landing page, etc. but we don’t realize the work it takes to create that “skin”. The students now understand how much effort goes into designing, launching, and promoting a crowdfunding campaign. Lesson learned!

The next wish was to play a round of golf with golf professional Charles Howell III. Another golf wish! One student in the group working on this wish had a few contacts that he thought could help make introductions to Charles. I did not hear much in the way of interviewing this grantee, as I think this group focused almost immediately on executing actually getting a round of golf set up with Charles.

Image result for charles howell iiiUnfortunately, the group didn’t pull this off – instead, they gave the grantee two rounds of golf at a local exclusive club. I was disappointed in this effort, or lack thereof, and at this group honing in on one idea almost instantly and not being willing to budge from that idea, or developing alternative plans.

I need to do a better job of motivating students to challenge themselves.

For the last wish of this bunch, the group granting the wish wanted to try to grant two. The first was the grantee (who is from the Middle East) wanted to learn to ski. Since the weather turned to spring, this wish wasn’t physically possible at the time, so the group wanted to add a second wish to the docket. The group purchased two passes to ski lessons at a local ski resort for next season and checked off that wish. The second wish was the grantee wanted to own a cafè. The day they granted the wish, in a room next to our classroom, they set up a mock cafe for the grantee to provide coffee and pastries to the students in class. In this way, the grantee got to “run” a cafe for an evening. The grantee was overwhelmed at the generosity of receiving two wishes – this feeling is what the experience is all about!

Last Batch of Wishes

As we near the end of the semester, we have one last batch of wishes to be granted:

  • Visit New York City
  • Do goat yoga
  • Get a Brooks Brothers custom suit
  • Be a billionaire

I am personally taking the wish of visiting New York City, and have challenged the class to outdo me this time! I want to show them how I, as one person who is nobody special, can use creativity and my network to actually grant the reality of a wish.

Image result for new york city

I acknowledge that traveling to New York City from Cleveland is easier to manage than traveling to Ireland or the Amalfi coast of Italy. But the lesson here is the process of ideation, leveraging resources, and iterating. I’m already off and running with activating my network to make this dream come true – this student is from Tanzania and has some very personal and deep reasons for wanting to visit some places in New York City. While interviewing this grantee, I became so motivated to create this impact for her – I can’t wait to report back on how it all went. And on whether the class took my challenge!

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

We will run one last blog post wrapping up Doan’s journey through his semester-long Wish Game Course this Spring.

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2019’s Top 5 Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

2019’s Top 5 Free Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

“Your posts help me keep my students engaged – they and I thank you!” – ExEC Curriculum Professor

Based on the popularity of our 2018 Top 5 Lesson Plans article, we’ve update our list based on feedback from our fast growing community of now 4,600-strong entrepreneurship instructors.

The following are all lesson plans we’ve designed to transform your students’ experience as they learn how to generate ideas, interview customers, prototype and validate solutions.

5. Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation

Many of our students believe an idea is the heart of entrepreneurship. In this lesson, we shatter that assumption, and replace it with an appropriate focus on customer problems.

We want your students to develop ideas that are more feasible, impactful, and creative.

This is the toughest challenges entrepreneurship professors face. Student ideas tend to be a repetition of low-impact or infeasible mediocrity. You want more from them. We can help! We focus your students on problems in this lesson, because the best business ideas come from problems.entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, idea

After this lesson, your students’ ideas will be:

  • More feasible because they’re focusing on serving people they care about.
  • More impactful because they’re paying more attention to problems than they are products.
  • More creative because they’ll use those problems as inspiration.

View Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation Lesson Plan

4. Personal Business Plan

In this exercise, shared with us by Rebeca Hwang from Stanford University, students create a business plan about themselves. Students approach themselves as a company, and apply the tools they learned during their entrepreneurship course to understand how they add value to the world.

Students answer questions about their future vision and about their present plans and passions. One of our professor’s favorite components of this exercise is that students choose who grades their personal business plan (and that our colleagues at Stanford provide a very robust rubric)!

teaching entrepreneurship personal business plan

Through this exercise, students:

  • Learn to see themselves as a company,
  • Learn they must continuously invest in and develop a plan for their future,
  • Embrace the tools and methodologies they learned in the course because they are applying them to their future,
  • Understand learning is meaningful when applied to a personal context

View Why Business Plans Fail Lesson Plan

3. Teaching Customer Interviewing

We consistently hear from faculty that teaching customer interviewing is their biggest challenge. In this lesson plan students use a combination of ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards, with an online collaborative quiz game (Kahoot), to learn:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should be and should not be
  • What questions they should and should not ask

customer interviewing teaching entrepreneurship

Students then get an interview script template they can use as the basis for their problem discovery interviews.

This exercise teaches your students:

  • What objectives they should and should not attempt to accomplish during a problem discovery interview and why,
  • What questions they should and shouldn’t ask during a customer discovery interview and why,
  • What a comprehensive interview script book looks like

View Customer Interviewing Cards Lesson Plan

2. 60 Minute MVP

One of our most popular lesson plans is the 60 Minute MVP. During this class, students launch an MVP website, with an animated video and a way to take pre-orders, in an hour with no prior coding experience. One of our professors told us after running this exercise:

“One student described it as like a Navy Seal mental training exercise. Not sure it was that intense, but they were amazed and proud that they got it done.”

Your students will love this class period; they progress from the anxiety of the challenge confronting them (build a website in 60 minutes) to the elation of their journey (launching a website they built in 60 minutes). This exercise creates tremendous energy in your classroom. Students create something real.

On the lesson plan page you can view an example video students created in about 20 minutes, built around actual customer problem interviews:

You can also view a great example of a website built in just 60 minutes:

Your students will create landing pages like thisUpscale dining at its finest!

Some critical learnings for your students are the true meaning of Minimum Viable Product (MVP), that it’s easier to launch a product than they thought, and that the easiest thing about building a business is launching that product.

View 60 Minute MVP Lesson Plan

1. Teaching Customer Observations

During our years of research on what topics entrepreneurship professors struggle to teach, we heard “customer interviewing” over and over again. Our ExEC curriculum includes a robust method of customer interviewing, but customer observation is another great way to gather customer information. So we developed our Teaching Customer Observations lesson plan to help students learn learn the value of seeing how their customers experience problems, as opposed to imagining their customers’ problems.

In addition to our community thinking this is a powerful experience in the classroom, this exercise also won first place in the Excellence in Entrepreneurial Exercises Awards at the USASBE 2019 Annual Conference!

This exercise positions your students to observe customers in their natural settings. This allows them to discover new business opportunities and increase their empathy and behavioral analysis skills.

Our goal with this exercise is to teach students to have an empathy picture/analysis that frames the problem they are trying to solve before they jump to a solution. Having this clear picture will allow them to come up with better creative solutions.

During this two-class exercise, your students will experience customer empathy and how to plan and translate an observation experience into ideas for products and services. This will provide the following benefits:

  • Introduce students to a powerful tool to gather information on customer experience in real life situations. This allows students to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it.
  • Students practice how to listen with their eyes in order to understand what people value and care about, & what they don’t.
  • Provide a common reference experience for expanding on topics later in the course.

View Teaching Customer Observations Lesson Plan

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Customer Interviewing Card Game

Customer Interviewing Card Game

Students don’t like customer interviews, but they do like games!

So we combined the two to make customer interviews more fun and approachable.

Our updated method of teaching customer interviews is using ExEC Customer Interviewing Playing Cards with an online collaborative quiz game to show students:

  • What their problem interviewing goals should and should not be, and
  • What questions they should and should not ask

Fully Engaged Class

When you run this exercise, your students will be fully immersed in the lesson as they hurriedly sort cards into different piles and compete with one another using their phones to see who can correctly answer the most questions, the fastest.

Here’s what it looked like when we presented it at USASBE:

And here’s what one of the professors who tested this lesson part of our Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) reported back:

Big hit tonight! Lots of competition!

Really got through on true purpose of problem discovery and what questions to ask / not ask. They are in much better shape going into interviews than my prior students.

– Jen Daniels, Georgia State University
Give the Customer Interview Cards lesson plan a shot. It’ll add a boost of energy to your course and your students will love it.

Step 1: Prepwork

To set students up for success, they need to do a little prework. Have your students watch this video on what to ask during customer interviews.

You need to do a little prework yourself:

  • Print and cut one set of Customer Discovery Interview Cards for every two students.
  • Get familiar with Kahoot; watch this Kahoot demo video, and review the Kahoot questions here.
  • Review the answers to the Interview and the Objective cards here and print a copy for your reference.
  • Print out one copy of the final interviewing script for each student.

Step 2: The Setup

Prior to this class session, familiarize your students with the purpose and he value of customer interviewing.

Pair students up, give each pair a set of the gray “Problem Interviews Objective” cards, and give them a few minutes to find the six objectives they should achieve during customer discovery interviews from the 12 objective cards.

Customer interview cards

You also need to set up Kahoot and project that on the screen. Turn all the game options off except for the following, which should be turned on:

  • Enable Answer Streak Bonus
  • Podium
  • Display Game PIN throughout

customer interview

Find detailed instructions for setting up Kahoot in the full lesson plan.

Step 3: Play the Warm-Up Game

Project Kahoot on the screen and read the first objective question aloud. Students use their phones to indicate if it’s a good or bad objective for a customer discovery interview based on how they categorized their cards.

After all students record their answer, you have an opportunity to discuss why a particular objective is good or bad for a customer discovery interview. Students will generally have different opinions for each of the 12 objectives.

This warm-up game is an opportunity for rich dialogue to help students deeply understand the purpose of customer interviews.

Progress through all 12 objectives, discussing each one as you go. Kahoot displays a live scoreboard – congratulate the winner after going through 12 objectives, but let everyone know this was just a warm-up game. The real game is next – to determine what are good and bad interviewing questions.

Step 4: Play the Real Game

Students now know what their customer interviewing objectives should be. Hand out the 24 Customer Interviewing Question cards, and students should identify which 9 questions are ideal to ask.

customer interview cards

Now start the Questions Kahoot game and have students join. Lead students through the same process you did with the Objectives Kahoot.

Students record their answer in Kahoot about what are good and bad Problem Interview questions. This is another powerful opportunity to discuss why a particular question is good or bad for a customer discovery interview.

Kahoot displays a live scoreboard – congratulate the winner after going through all the questions.

Crown the Customer Interviewing Champions! Reward them with some prize. Make a big deal of this to let students know how important customer interviewing is to entrepreneurs.

Step 5: The Interview Template

Your students now have a strong understanding of customer problem interviewing objectives and good questions to ask. It is time to give them an interview template they can use to connects all of the dots.

If you use this exercise as a part of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC), we provide an interview template for your students to use. Otherwise, you can create your own.

After playing the warm-up and the real game, students understand why they should ask the “good” questions.

Students also understand why they should not ask many of the questions they would intuitively think to ask.

Review each question to ensure they understand:

  • How to ask the question, and
  • Why they should ask the question

Now is your chance to answer any questions or fears your students have before sending them out into the field to interview actual customers! But have no fear, your students are well-prepared with solid questions that will help guide their ideation.

If you want to help your students deeply understand why and how to interview customers, get the full lesson plan by clicking below!


Get the “Customer Interviewing Cards” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed “Customer Interviewing Cards” 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.

 


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we will share a companion exercise to the “60 Minute MVP” exercise. This will help students understand why it is critical to engage customers prior to launching!

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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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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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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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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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Student Entrepreneur Spotlight: Uber for Women

Student Entrepreneur Spotlight: Uber for Women

“We had our minds set on getting a job after graduation, and now we have something on our plate that is really exciting to think about growing.”

Julia, Hannah and Jennifer
ExEC Entrepreneurs

What if Your Course Changed the Career Trajectory of Your Students?

That’s what happened to Dr. Emma Fleck at Susquehanna University, and her students Julia Bodner, Hannah Gruber, and Jennifer Thorsheim.

Using the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) in their Fall 2017 course taught by Dr. Emma Fleck, Julia, Hannah, and Jennifer discovered skills and confidence they didn’t know they had, created a business, and won an all-expenses-paid trip to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota to present their business in e-Fest and the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge.

We are hearing similar stories from entrepreneurship classrooms around the world using ExEC as their curriculum. The learning is lasting. The experience is dynamic. The students are transformed.

If you want engaged students and a classroom alive with ideas and passion and growth, check out our curriculum. If you’re not convinced, let us tell you a story . . .

Students Become Entrepreneurs

Prior to Dr. Fleck’s course, Julia, Jen and Hannah “were a little nervous when [they] got the assignment of creating a company”. They didn’t think they were creative enough, and had reservations going into the course.

Dr. Fleck urged her students to solve problems that were personal to them; one of the early lessons in ExEC is using ideation exercises to discover a problem to solve. Jennifer flashed back to a recent experience:

She was in London, traveling on the tube, and was followed home by a strange man. She told her parents, who urged her to take an Uber next time she was traveling, so she did. That experience was no better; her driver was being “really weird”, telling her she looked like his ex-girlfriend, and in general creating a very uncomfortable atmosphere for Jennifer.

The ideation exercises in the ExEC curriculum, combined with the existence of a threat for women traveling alone, sparked an “Uber for women” idea for the three young women. They became very passionate about developing a business providing safe transportation for women on college campuses. And Fairy Godmother was born!

In their words, 

“we wanted to bring this issue to light and attack it where we can. College campuses are a really big party scene, obviously, with people taking Ubers and taxis home after nights out, and we hear way too many stories about women in uncomfortable situations. We just wanted to try and alleviate that and fix [the problem].”

During the course they navigated collecting interview and survey data, building and iterating a business model, and struggled through financial projections. They found ExEC and the course beneficial because

“it took us step-by-step through the process; at every stage, we felt comfortable moving forward. The way the course was set up really helped us.”

Students Love ExEC!

In this short video, Julia, Jen and Hannah explain what using ExEC meant to them. This is the student feedback every teacher dreams of! You can get it with ExEC.

In the video above, the Fairy Godmothers explain the value of their ExEC course!

ExEC will teach your students to create a startup just like Fairy Godmother. Click on the image below to check out their Unbounce landing page, which they created using the 60 Minute MVP exercise from ExEC to create this landing page.

Your Students Can Compete!

Julia, Jennifer and Hannah entered Fairy Godmother in the annual e-fest/Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge event, and were selected as finalists! 

Although they were nominated for the Social Impact and the Global Impact Awards, Fairy Godmother left empty-handed in terms of awards and funding. But they left with something much more important – confidence!

The experience gave them validation that they were capable of building something from their ideas; judges and other students sought them out individually to encourage them to push forward.

The Final Results

Dr. Fleck used ExEC to lead Jen, Julia and Hannah to identify a problem they are passionate about solving, conduct research and customer interviews, build out a landing page and develop a business and financial model. This experience gave them confidence and a toolkit with which they can excel in the world. Your students can have too – sign up to use ExEC today!

Your Impact Will Grow Beyond Your Course

Julia, Jennifer, and Hannah experienced a different senior year spring semester than their friends. They certainly were thinking about a job and life post-college. But because of their experience in Dr. Fleck’s class, they also were thinking about next steps with their business.

They continued working on their business model and landed on a licensing model for college campuses, charging a flat fee and also taking a percentage of each fare.

They knew another group of students would be going through Dr. Fleck’s course, using the same ExEC curriculum, learning from the same (amazing!) professor. Julia, Jen and Hannah began thinking about passing along part of their business to this new batch of students. They would stay involved, but they also would get new energy and ideas. The Fairy Godmother team is working on the legalities of licensing, delving into the murky waters of financials, and putting together a plan to enable more students to help them take their business to the next level.

As they told us,

“the next steps of the business aren’t as scary; the class and the experience makes entrepreneurship less scary.”

After their experience, they knew they could overcome the uncertainty they would encounter, and could navigate the boulders in their path. These women were not as afraid to take risks and stood a little taller as they faced the challenges of entrepreneurship and of life after college.

Looking Back

Julia, Jennifer, and Hannah entered an undergraduate entrepreneurship course like most of our students do – nervously excited about the unknown. The ExEC curriculum and Dr. Fleck’s caring guidance delivered these women a experience that changed them in unimaginable ways. Specifically, the main skills they honed in the course were:

  • Problem Solving: “We learned how to find a problem and to think of a viable solution to bring to market.”
  • Creativity: “We thought we weren’t creative, but we discovered that we definitely are.”
  • Teamwork: “We were good friends, but never worked in a team. This class forced us to work together and perform under a lot of pressure.”
  • Risk-tolerance: “We feel more comfortable taking risks now.”

Julia, Jennifer and Hannah experienced what we all hope our students experience in our courses. They learned real skills and how to apply them to real life. They learned they can accomplish big goals, that they never thought possible. They experimented, they failed, they launched, and they grew, as individuals and as a team:

“None of us were thinking we could be entrepreneurs, and now we all feel like we can [be entrepreneurs]!”

You Can Use ExEC this Fall

When planning for your fall entrepreneurship courses, consider our comprehensive, structured curriculum; ExEC’s 25+ detailed lesson plans, exercises, and assessments provide the foundation for your entrepreneurship course, so you can teach real-world entrepreneurial skills like:

  • Idea generation
  • Problem validation
  • Customer interviews
  • MVP development
  • and more…

…in a rigorous way, that can be consistently assessed.

Request a preview of the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum today and make this Fall the most engaging semester of entrepreneurship yet!


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Observe Customers Where They Are

Observe Customers Where They Are

Are your students shy about conducting customer interviews?

Do your students struggle collecting information about problems from customer interviews?

Observing customers is another great way to gather customer information. In some important ways, it can provide even more and different information than an interview.

This Fly On The Wall exercise:

  • Introduces your students to a powerful tool to gather information on customers’ experience in real-life situations. This allows them to avoid predicting customer behavior by actually observing it. Because actions speak louder than words.
  • Allows students to practice listening with their eyes, to understand what people value and what they don’t. Because behavior doesn’t always match what people think they will do.

Observing customers in natural settings is a powerful experience for students. They discover new business opportunities. They increase their customer empathy. They hone their behavioral analysis skills. All critical entrepreneurial competencies!

Students going through this exercise learn a technique to gain insight into the small details of a customer’s interaction with their environment that a customer may not think to express in interviews.

This exercise will span two class periods. For more details, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 1 – Redesigning a Product

Most students will enter your class with no clue how to effectively observe customers in their natural environment.  Before teaching them how to do so, we want them to understand why it is such a valuable skill. So we kick off the customer observation class with the Toothbrush Exercise, which teaches students that:

Entrepreneurs can’t trust numbers alone. In order to improve the world, we must see, feel and experience it for ourselves!

Quick steps for this exercise:

  • Organize students into groups of 4-5
  • Show this picture on the screen
  • Tell students (& write on board/slide) the average adult male hand, is 7.44″ long (measured from tip of the middle finger to the wrist) and 3.30” wide (measured across the palm). The average adult female hand size is 6.77″ long and 2.91 inches wide. The average child hand size is 5.5” long and 2.75” wide. (You can also give each group cutouts if you are feeling adventurous!)
  • Give each team an adult toothbrush and tell them they have 5 minutes to design the best-selling child’s toothbrush (they must include the dimensions in their design)

After their 5 minutes elapse, ask how many groups made a smaller toothbrush? Now play this video:

After trying to design a toothbrush for kids the wrong way, this video will drive home the point that the goal isn’t to make toothbrushes smaller for kids, but to actually make them bigger!

For more details on this exercise, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 1: Step 2 – Making It Real

The homework consists of two steps. Step 1 is to watch the video below (click the image to launch the video) about the product development process, and read through Examples 1-3 here about how to make things people want.

Step 2 is for students, in groups, to observe customers for 20 minutes in a campus location where people are active. For instance, dining hall/food court, gym/rec center, makerspace, athletic facilities, etc. The point of this homework assignment is for students to observe students actively interacting with some products (gym, makerspace) or business (food court). In other words, you don’t want them observing students in the library, where they are likely to be sedentary.

Direct your students to take note, individually, of anything they observe about their subjects, without interacting with them. Each student needs to individually write down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

Class 2: Step 1 – Debrief

Start the next class with groups reporting what they observed. You will find students’ observations will likely focus on:

  1. Surface-level activity, such as “students were talking to each other” or “students were exercising
  2. The perspective of the product or business, such as “there were not enough seats in the food court” or “many treadmills were not in use

We want these observations, because it’s the perfect way to illustrate how to conduct useful observations. For a debrief of their homework, ask students how they can use the information they gathered during observations to develop products/ideas they could bring to market.

Students will not write down questions they will try to answer prior to the observation, or define major themes to look for. They will observe without planning a framework.

The aha moment we want them to realize is that they need a plan to effectively observe customers.

During the debrief, stress:

  1. Focus observations on the subjects’ problems (empathize)
  2. Identifying patterns where subjects struggle to do something
  3. Capturing images and/or video during observations

For more details on this debrief, check out our Fly On The Wall lesson plan below.

Class 2: Step 2 – Planning

The final step is for students to plan an observation they will conduct as homework in the same campus location they observed as homework after Class 1. Remind students to create a framework that includes:

  1. Questions they want to answer, and
  2. Themes they can look for

For homework, students should conduct that observation, again writing down the following based on their own observation:

  1. At least 3 problems that can be solved that they observed
  2. At least 10 new things they discovered during their observation

They should notice a significant difference between their observations after Class 1 and Class 2.

This extended series of exercises gives students valuable skills to add to their entrepreneurial toolkit: customer observations and behavioral analysis.

Get the “Fly On The Wall” Lesson Plan

We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Fly On The Wall” 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.


What’s Next?

In upcoming posts, we talk about our evolving experiential curriculum, how to teach students about approaching and mitigating risk, and how to enable your students to better identify opportunities!

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