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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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Wish Game: Entrepreneurship Through Giving Back

Wish Game: Entrepreneurship Through Giving Back

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

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

The Wish Game As An Exercise

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

Step 1: Sharing Wishes

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

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

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

Step 2: Planning the Wish

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

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

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

Through planning and executing wishes, The Wish Game:

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

The Wish Game as a Course

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

Step 1: Sharing Wishes

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

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

Step 2: Planning the Wish

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

wish game example

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Assessing the Wish

Doan will assess students in two ways.

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

The Wish Game as Entrepreneurship

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

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

Want To Follow Doan’s Journey?

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

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Personal Business Plan

Personal Business Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Personal Business Plan

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

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

Examples of exhibits professors give students are:

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

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

In using sources, guide students with the following:

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

Grading the Personal Business Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Takeaways

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

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


Get the “Personal Business Plan” Lesson Plan

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

Get the Lesson Plan

 

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

 


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Changing your Students’ Lives

Changing your Students’ Lives

Rebeca Hwang
Entrepreneurship Lecturer
Stanford University

“Take it. It’s a life changer.”

Rebeca Hwang works in one of the most competitive teaching environments, with some of the most demanding students in the country. In that context her entrepreneurship class achieves a stunningly high (96%+) positive feedback rating. Her evaluations include quotes like “one of the best classes at Stanford”. Students recommend her course to others by describing the life-long impact she’s had on them.

We wanted to learn how Rebeca creates such a transformative and highly regarded course. My colleague Justin Wilcox reached out for a conversation, and Rebeca graciously agreed to share some of her secrets.

During the conversation, we discovered several things Rebeca does differently in her ENGR 145 Technology Entrepreneurship class than most of us entrepreneurship instructors. Below we lay out four Rebeca-inspired-techniques to create a more engaging, challenging and life-changing learning environment:

    1. Treat your students like customers (WOW! them),
    2. Practice reciprocity culture
    3. Normalize failure
    4. Provide in-depth feedback with objective rubrics

WOW’ing Student-Customers

Most of us strive to create memorable experiences for our students. Few of us can actually WOW our students. Rebeca is one of those amazing few. She tells her course assistants

“We are not teaching a class, we are serving a customer.”

and that their goal is “to wow our customer, to understand and empathize with them, and how the content of what we are delivering to them is going to affect their lives.”

This principle of WOWing customers is the foundation upon which every other principle she adds to the class is built. Treating her students like she would treat customers creates a significantly higher quality learning experience for her students.

What is so impactful is that Rebeca models for her students how to treat the customers in their lives – namely, future employers, coworkers, friends, family members, partners, etc.  

The Wish Game

“the Wish Game was amazing because our professor really went out of her ways to complete them, even though they were completely out of her job criteria.” – ENGR145 Student

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

One way she WOWs her students is through The Wish Game, which Rebeca uses as a path to teamwork and hyper-collaboration. On the first day, Rebeca asks students to write down three wishes on a piece of paper.

These can be anything at all. They have ranged from the mundane to the fascinating to the unreal. Examples are getting a job at Google, meeting Mark Zuckerberg, or meeting Steve Jobs (a real student request after he passed away!).

Every week Rebeca chooses one person’s paper from a hat and one of their wishes gets fulfilled. The entire class as a whole works to fulfill the 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 WOWing the students.

The Wish Game isn’t about competition, it’s about hyper-collaboration because if her students help each other, they all benefit.

After picking a wish, students start interviewing the student whose wish was picked. They want to find out what their wish really is, as often it isn’t exactly what is written on the paper. Through this process, students get to know each other, build stronger relationships with each other, and understand the hopes and dreams of each other.

This also helps students practice their interviewing skills, which are a critical skill they work to develop in the course. The Wish Game is fun, but it’s a powerful learning and growth opportunity as well.

The Wish Game pushes students to think about what resources and assets they have, and pushes them to share those with peers. It enables students to build lasting relationships, and to make a positive impact on each other.

Teaching & Modeling Reciprocity Culture

“Before this class, I never thought about how important being able to socialize and make friends is to being an entrepreneur, and mostly just focused on developing my technical skills in the hopes that one day I could use them to start a business. But as we learned in class, in order to get investors, employees, partners, and customers, being able to make friends is one of the most important skills of a successful entrepreneur” – ENGR145 Student

As a veteran of Silicon Valley and of entrepreneurial ecosystems, Rebeca understands that “networking and telling stories are such important components of entrepreneurship.” A big focus of her class is teaching students the fundamentals of what makes a working relationship last.

From day one, students are networking – they have to find team members during the first class session, they learn to talk about their skills and experiences, but also their failures and dreams.

Rebeca shares with her students the tactics to approach someone who is senior to them, and tactics to write an email so people will respond. She focuses intensely on very tactical networking skills that will help student succeed in their Silicon Valley surroundings and beyond.

The most valuable skill Rebeca teaches her students is the principle of reciprocity, which is

“the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another.”

She urges her students to think, before meeting a person, what can they provide that person. In building a relationship it is important to have a strong willingness to learn, but it is equally important to listen well and to desire to give back.

Through a consistent message of reciprocity, Rebeca teaches her students that “those who succeed are valuable to the network.” She has found it is quite contagious in her students once she plants the seeds of this mindset.

Normalizing Failure

“[this course] taught me that successful people are the ones who actually get out and try – and don’t even consider failure.” – ENGR145 Student

“I used to often not got to events or apply for opportunities because I thought I would fail anyway. But not trying is already a failure and if I try and fail, I may learn something in the process.” – ENGR145 Student

When Rebeca and her course assistants introduce themselves to students on day one, they start with “My name is ______, and I’m going to share a failure with you.” From the first moment, Rebeca works to make failure a part of her class’ culture, to normalize it for her students so when it happens they can navigate it as a learning experience.

Through a variety of experiences, Rebeca brings the realities of entrepreneurship into her course, including failure. She brings in a litany of speakers to share stories with her students.

These speakers are not typical entrepreneurs, but have all done amazing things outside entrepreneurship. Things like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen. Or running ultramarathons. Rebeca carefully chooses speakers who can teach her students that in anything in life, extremes aren’t necessarily bad in terms of dreaming and aiming high.

She wants her students to hear realistic stories of small failures and struggling to achieve big goals. Rebeca introduces them to the depression and founder suicide problems in Silicon Valley. She wants them to know about grinding it out, about sleepless nights, about not getting the meeting, or not getting the next meeting.

Failure is a major aspect of entrepreneurship, and Rebeca doesn’t shy away from this in her course. She wants her students to embrace failure as a reality and a chance to learn and grow.

In-Depth Feedback With Objective Rubrics

Assessment is something we all struggle with. How can we be effective and efficient? Rebeca found her magic combination in well-defined rubrics that students get ahead of time and personal in-depth feedback.

Rebeca gives her students all the rubrics on the first day of class. They therefore feel comfortable because they know their grade won’t be an arbitrary decision. They can see their pathway to the grade they want or need for graduate school, for a scholarship, or to keep mom and dad happy.

Rebeca spends roughly three (3) hours per day outside class working with students. This includes personal interactions, office hours, and always providing in-depth feedback on student progress and projects.

What Can You Do?

Rebeca Hwang’s formula for success in her course is WOWing customers, modeling reciprocity, normalizing failure, and using a very clear and personal feedback system.

We each approach our courses differently, due to our own backgrounds and experiences, and due to our institutional context and culture. Rebeca shows us that within the walls of our classroom, and within the minds of our students, we can achieve extraordinary results.

We can inspire our students, we can change their career trajectory, we can teach them skills to decipher their world. The list of gifts we can offer our students is endless.

Rebeca found a formula that has proven extremely successful; as one of Rebeca’s students said:

“If you are considering a future as an entrepreneur and don’t know where to start from, take this course. If you have an idea but are looking to explore how it can work in the silicon valley, take this course. If you just want to learn how to be a team player, take THIS Course!”

What is your formula?

The Nitty Gritty of Rebeca’s Class

Rebeca’s students are mostly upperclass undergraduate students, and roughly 1/3 are international students. Most of Rebeca’s these desire to start a company at some point, and they are a solid interdisciplinary mix of designers, creatives, engineers, and business experts.

Because some students have started companies and some have not, Rebeca’s students have different relationships with entrepreneurship; they have some exposure to it and are very interested in learning more about it, but they come to the course with different levels of expertise.

Rebeca doesn’t focus on building expertise in the usual conceptualization. Her students learn about the spirit of entrepreneurship; she approaches her class as giving students tools, methodologies, and strategies they can use in life. Students experience an emphasis on acquiring a skill set to decide what career to pursue and to solve problems in all aspects of their life.

Here is the full interview with Rebeca in case you would like to dive deeper on any aspects.

Who is Rebeca Hwang?

Prior to co-founding Rivet Ventures a venture capital firm that invests in male and female founders that target women-led markets, Rebeca Hwang co-founded YouNoodle, Cleantech Open, and Startup Malaysia. Rebeca was educated at MIT and Stanford and has been recognized as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and as one of the top 35 under 35 Global Innovators by MIT Tech Review.

Rebeca serves on the Global Board of Kauffman’s Global Entrepreneurship Network. She was born in Seoul, raised in Argentina and educated in the US, and has worked closely with several countries on their national startup programs, including Malaysia, South Korea, Spain, Iceland, Chile and Mexico, and was a member of the Board of Advisors of the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council.

Recently listed by Forbes as one of their 20 inspiring young female founders to follow on Twitter, Rebeca is a frequent speaker at global conferences on entrepreneurship. Her TED talk on the power of diversity within yourself has been viewed nearly 1.5 million times.

Want More from Rebeca and Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Program?

We’re running a series of blog posts highlighting Rebeca’s outstanding class, including a number of exercises she runs in her class. Subscribe below to ensure you get those.

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The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)

The Updated Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC)

We’re building the entrepreneurship curriculum you dream of teaching.

At least that’s what we’re trying to do. The feedback from our pilot professors tells us we are doing pretty well. There have been hiccups, and learning moments, but our agile team and processes have allowed us to respond promptly and create an engaging user experience for both professors and students.

Now in Over 40 Universities

ExEC entrepreneurship curriculum at over 40 Universities including Penn State and the University of Nebraska

At this point last year, our the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC) was in roughly 20 schools. Strong demand for a structured, experiential, 15-week entrepreneurship curriculum has doubled the number of universities we’re in.

Of course, being a new venture determined to help students learn how to create new ventures, we’re adamant that we…

Practice what we preach!

We gather feedback from professors and students after each lesson. Through this, we focus on how they felt teaching the lesson (professors) or completing the lesson (students):

We interview professors multiple times during the semester. Our team invites students to talk with us so we can learn more about how they feel living the curriculum, what we are missing, and what we are doing well.

We work tremendously hard to gather, analyze, and constantly make updates for next semester, not “next revisions” like traditional textbooks. The ExEC you see today is a result of our vision and assumptions, continuously tested with students and professors around the world.

While we gather a ton of feedback from our professors, but perhaps the best way to sum up their perspective is what Dr. Chris Welter had to say:

“It’s the software I’ve been looking for for 3 or 4 years . . . I really appreciate the ability for students to get their hands dirty”

New Professor Platform

After practicing what we preach and talking extensively with our professors, it was clear we needed to make some changes to our Professor Portal. We practice what we preach in building our product.

Our original professor-facing version was Google Docs, Slides, and PDFs:

It worked as an MVP and allowed us to test a variety of our assumptions, but ultimately our professors told us Google Docs was too cumbersome to use, and to print from.

So we built a brand new professor platform for our entrepreneurship curriculum! We are currently beta-testing this platform and will roll it out in Fall 2019:

We deliver each of our 31 lessons in a standard format, that includes six core elements for easy navigation and execution for our professors:

1. The Goals and objectives of that lesson. We frame each lesson in practical terms for our professors so they quickly understand why the lesson is important, and what their students will learn.

2. An overview showing where that lesson fits into the scheme and flow of the overall curriculum. We understand it is useful to always understand the big picture – where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. We also map our entrepreneurship curriculum flow onto the Business Model Canvas to highlight what lessons are applicable for particular boxes on the Canvas.

3. An overview video explaining the lesson, and Google Slides for classroom use. Our goal is for our professors to succeed, and that means providing information and tools. Some use slides and some do not, but we offer them just in case. We know some prefer videos to long text, so we offer both, just in case.

4. Instructions for how to prepare before class, including all the necessary resources. Experiential education is really difficult to execute. We provide our professors with a ton of direction to prepare for each lesson. We want them to succeed, and we want their students to remember each and every learning experience throughout the entrepreneurship curriculum.

5. A minute-by-minute exhaustive outline for delivering the lesson during class. What can we say, we are a but obsessive at times. But we figured more detail was better than less detail.

6. Instructions for what students could and should be doing after class. Let’s be honest – what happens after the class is just as important to a student’s learning experience as what happens within the confines of the particular class period.

Assessment Guide

While testing our first version, one need we heard consistently from professors was guidance on how to assess their students. They loved the experiential nature of the exercises, but they were not always clear on how they could help students understand their progression through the understanding and application of that content. So we built an Assessment Guide into our updated entrepreneurship curriculum to help our professors provide quality feedback to students throughout the process.

During the semester, students progress through 5 Validation Check-Ins. These are basically progressive pitches that act as the main opportunity for assessment. We give our professors rubrics and detailed guidance on how to assess the students’ documents and pitches.

Our goal with assessment is not just to help professors provide a grade, but to help professors provide meaningful and timely feedback to students.

For more on our approach to assessment, read our post 4 Steps to Assessing an Experiential Class.

More Background Reading Material

One of the other pieces of feedback we got early on was that professors wanted to use us as the sole resource for their class. To do that though, we needed to add some breadth, in addition to our depth.

We feel confident we cover idea generation, customer interviewing, business modeling, and prototyping comprehensively, but what about finance, legal issues, branding, etc.?

So we conducted an extensive analysis of entrepreneurship curriculum, textbooks and syllabi, and interviewed dozens of the most respected entrepreneurship professors and entrepreneurs. Our goal was to understand what information would be most useful for students beyond our core offering. From that research, we developed an extensive Resource Guide that currently includes 17 modules.

These modules are by no means an complete exploration of the particular topic. Instead we offer an overview of the topic, a deep dive into some of the basics and the critical components of the topic, and then recommend an extensive list of curated resources and readings of that particular topic.

We want our professors to feel comfortable knowing if they recommend their students go through one of our Resource Guides, they will emerge with a solid understanding of the topic and how to apply that content to their context.

We are not the experts all of these topics, but have done considerable research to better inform our professors around these topics of interest. What we offer within each resource guide is an evolving list of additional resources (articles, books, videos, etc.) for students to continue their learning of a particular topic, or for professors to use as additional resources.

This Resource Guide is an evolving offering. As we hear from professors using our ExEC curriculum, or the community of 3,200+ professors reading our blog, that a certain topic is critical in entrepreneurship education, we will build a Resource Guide ourselves, or invite subject-matter experts to help us build one.

LMS integration

Our last major update is integrating with Canvas, D2L, Moodle and Blackboard. In our first version, students and professors had to download and upload documents, assignments, slides, and other materials. We heard loud and clear that this was not a great user experience.

We now offer the capability of uploading all our content neatly into the four learning management systems mentioned above. This will greatly reduce the setup time for our professors, and will provide a more comfortable learning process for the students.

As you can see, we have been hard at work learning what works and what doesn’t with ExEC. We constantly gather feedback from students and from professors. With this feedback, we strive to provide the ultimate experiential learning opportunity to entrepreneurship educators.

Now’s Your Chance!

We’ve been updating our curriculum and platform based on feedback from hundreds of professors and thousands of students. If you are looking for a fully structured, experiential entrepreneurship curriculum, with 15 weeks of lesson plans that students love, an in-depth complementary Resource Guide, and a comprehensive Assessment Guide, you should check out ExEC.

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2018’s Top 5 Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

2018’s Top 5 Entrepreneurship Lesson Plans

The list below is from 2018. We’ve since updated our top 5 lesson plans based on community feedback!

Over the last year we learned what you and the rest of our community of over 3,000 entrepreneurship teachers want to make your classroom environment more engaging and rigorous for your students.

Here, we share our entrepreneurship professor’s 5 favorite lesson plans. These transform students’ experience through experiential lessons around ideation, customer interaction, and prototyping.

5. Syllabus Co-Creation

In our Syllabus Co-creation lesson plan, we provide an interactive experience to engage your students by turning their problems into your syllabus. This is a powerful way to launch a semester by creating for students an authentic feeling of what it’s like to be the customer.

Creating problem Post-It clouds

Our goal with this lesson plan is to give you a way to make entrepreneurship relevant to all your students. We provide a roadmap to show how what you’ll teach will be relevant to them right now. Specifically, through this exercise, you’ll show students:

  • You care about their problems and fears
  • They will learn the skills to solve their problems

Students will see exactly how and when they will acquire the skills to address their biggest problems and fears during your course.

Your students will be engaged, because you will be engaging them.

View Syllabus Co-Creation Lesson Plan

4. Why Business Plans Fail

A great way to follow up the Syllabus Co-Creation is our Why Business Plans Fail lesson. During this day, students experience the marshmallow challenge to understand why business model experimentation can be more effective than business planning.

While variations of the Marshmallow Challenge have been around for a while, we found the vast majority of students have still never done it.

Students will experience the pitfalls of hidden assumptions first-hand so they can more easily validate their business model assumptions later in your course.

Marshmallow challenge failure
The perfect failure 🙂
Xavier University an ExEC Pilot

This class will be fun and high energy for you, and your students. Our lesson plan guides you through two iterations of an 18 minute, fast-paced construction challenge where students learn that invalidated assumptions lead to failure. Your classroom will be loud, it will be full of anxiety and excitement, and ultimately full of failing and the glorious learning that comes from it.

Our goal with this lesson is to introduce a high-intensity activity that teaches students:

  • The pitfalls of business plans
  • Why assumption identification, and assumption validation, are critical to creating success companies
  • Why iterations and experiments are the key to validating their business assumptions

View Why Business Plans Fail Lesson Plan

3. Idea Generation vs. Problem Generation

Most people think the heart of entrepreneurship is the idea. 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 one of 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

2. 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.

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

1. 60 Minute MVP

By far, our most popular lesson plan 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

Want 15 Weeks of Lesson Plans?

If you are looking for a fully structured, experiential entrepreneurship curriculum, with a semesters worth of lesson plans that students love, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

We’ve done the work for you. Check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.

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Teaching Creative Solution Generation

Teaching Creative Solution Generation

It’s disheartening when students don’t leave their creative comfort zones.  When brainstorming solutions to problems, we want your students to explore a huge range of ideas so they can identify the most innovative, and disruptive, business models possible.

In this post we’ll share two exercises that will push students beyond their comfort zone to generate solutions that hold tremendous potential for solving customer problems. The first is less structured. The second is more structured.

Exercise 1: Solution Overload

Using the lesson plan from our Idea Generation article, students generate a quick list of problem ideas with the Problem List and Observation techniques described.

Now ask them to review their list of ideas and choose the problem they are most excited about solving. This should be a problem that resonates with them.

  • Does serving the customer who experiences that problem excite them?
  • Does envisioning a solution make them smile?

Once they’ve choose the problem they’re most motivated to solve, your students should list 100 solutions to that problem (thank you to the amazing Tina Seelig for the 100-solutions-approach-to-brainstorming from her Crash Course in Creativity!).

Encourage your students to keep going, even when they think they are done, to come up with more interesting and surprising solutions. They should consider the worst ideas they can think of, the most expensive and least expensive solutions, as well as ideas that would have worked 100 years ago or 100 years in the future. Push them to suspend their judgement and find 100 solutions.

100 solutions seems unrealistic because students generally want to stay in their comfort zone. In terms of ideas, that means they want to stick with the safety of top-of-mind solutions that anyone could identify. You want your students to shed these easy solutions and dig deep to create more innovative solutions. You want them to sweat a bit, to push beyond their comfort zone, to be a bit scared thinking about the types of solutions they envision.

Most entrepreneurship students quickly formulate ideas around either shallow or impossible solutions. They ignore the problem customers experience, they ignore the feelings that problem stirs up in customers, and they look for something shiny. Completing this exercise will help students feel safe exploring their creative potential, pushing past their comfort zone.

Sometimes our students prefer having more structure, especially when it comes to brainstorming and accessing the more creative parts of their  minds. If that’s the case in your class, consider the following exercise instead…

Exercise 2: Solution Ideation

Exercise 2 is adapted from The FOCUS Framework, a workbook series that provides entrepreneurs an action-oriented approach to achieving product-market fit (and is authored by, Justin Wilcox, one of the contributors to this blog).

This brainstorming exercise provides a bit more structure to help students break out of their comfort zone. As with Exercise 1, the outcome is a large quantity of ideas that are not top-of-mind. This exercise has an additional purpose – to break the patterns and restrictions that hold people back from truly innovative thinking.

Before beginning, share these two rules for the exercise with your students:

solution idea generation

For Rule #1, remind them that brainstorming is most effective when they just focus on coming up with ideas…not coming up with good ideas. There will be plenty of time to winnow them down later so any idea that comes up, is a good idea.

Re Rule #2, encourage your students to embrace any issues they have with authority figures during this process. This will be their opportunity to discuss illegal ideas, physically impossible ideas, outlandishly expensive ideas. While other teachers force their students to color within the lies…

You want your students lighting the coloring book on fire, so they can melt the crayons into rainbow candles, and sell them at the farmer’s market.

Step 1:

Your students should create a question in the following format, customizing everything in brackets to align with their new business:

How can we help [customer] not feel [emotions] when they [encounter the problem]?

We want your students to develop solutions that eliminate the negative emotions customers feel, thereby solving a real problem. We consider a real problem to be one that causes customers to feel something uncomfortable. For example, receiving an F on a test is not a problem for a student. It becomes a problem when the student feels ashamed about repeating the class, or feels afraid of his parents’ reaction.

Great solutions don’t just solve problems. They replace the uncomfortable emotion created by the problem.

The question they write using the template above will serve as their motivation throughout their solution ideation process. They should return back to this question whenever they get stuck or need some inspiration.

Step 2:

Your students should quickly list the first 5 solutions they can think of to answer the question from step 1. We want them to clear their mind of the easy solutions that anyone can think of and allow themselves to dig deeper into innovative thinking.

Step 3:

Your students should now think of two solutions that are physically impossible. Put some image of science fiction on the screen to encourage them to think beyond what is known. Encourage them to let their mind go to the absurd:

  • Can they solve the problem with time travel?
  • How can teleportation help?
  • If humans and animals could all speak the same language…

Next, have them write down three more realistic ideas that were not part of their thinking in Step 2.

Now that they have let their mind go to the physically impossible, their subsequent set of realistic ideas should benefit having stretched their innovation neurons.

Step 4:

Your students should think of two solutions that are illegal. Encourage them to let their minds wander and have fun with this process:

  • Does kidnapping the smartest person in the world to help co-found this company help solve this problem help?
  • If they blatantly copied an existing product, could that inform a better solution?
  • If they stole a giant pile of money from a ruthless drug lord, how can that help solve this problem?

As in Step 3, follow up the absurd solutions with having them then write down three more new realistic ideas. Now that they have let their mind go to the physically impossible and the illegal, their disruptive muscles will be much stronger.

Step 5:

Your students should think of two solutions if money were no object:

  • They have infinite resources or
  • Their customers have infinite resources

Encourage them to let the absurdity flow. Then do the opposite, they have to come up with two solutions to the problem that require no money at all – for them, or their customers.

As before, after providing limitations on their ideas, lift the restrictions and ask them to use those as inspiration for three more realistic ideas.

Each student/team will now have 20 realistic ideas of how they can solve their customer’s’ problem.

Step 6:

If your students have conducted customer interviews prior to this exercise, which we highly recommend, they should write down the main deficiencies their customers are experiencing with their current solutions to their problems.

If they haven’t conducted customer interviews, ask them to hypothesize two or three deficiencies with their customers’ current solutions to the problem.

Step 7:

Ask your students to draw four solutions. This will engage a different part of their brain for their creative brainstorming than the one they’ve been using in the previous steps.

Tell your students that the quality of their drawing is not relevant. What’s important is that they are expanding the way they think about solutions.

Thinking about the deficiencies from Step 6, ask your students to review the 20 solution ideas they’ve come up with so far, and draw the four that are most:

  1. Logical – which makes the most logical sense to them?
  2. Delightful – which would make their customers ecstatic?
  3. Inexpensive – which would be least expensive for them to build (thinking about both time and money)?
  4. Disruptive – which would be the biggest game changer for their industry/the world?

In their drawings, they are not allowed to use words, numbers, letters, or characters. Only images. Drawing complements the writing they have been doing, to tap deeper into their creative potential.

Step 8:

Each student should now choose two of the fours solutions they’ve drawn to test via experimentation.

Once they’ve chosen their ideas, they should explain them to another student or team.

Teaching Brainstorming Techniques

Each exercise outlined above helps students feel safe exploring their creative potential and pushing past their comfort zone. They also provide your students with a large list of potential solutions. If you work with groups in your course, we encourage you to have your students complete the exercise individually, then aggregate their lists. Instead of 100 or 20 solution ideas, a group of four could potentially have 400 or 80 solutions to have fun exploring!

Imagine your students able to quickly develop lists of creative, but impactful, solutions to problems they hear potential customers describe.

Just as entrepreneurship students need to stretch beyond their comfort zone to generate quality solutions …

We need to leave our comfort zone to create an engaging learning environment.

For more details, take a look at the complete lesson plan we’ve provided below.

Get the Teaching Creative Solution Generation Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Teaching Creative Solution Generation Lesson Plan to help your students generate more impactful solutions. It touches on everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan

Use it as a basis to motivate your students to discover solutions beyond their comfort zone.

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we talk about how to build a syllabus that engages students in a powerful conversation about their ideas, their fears, and their path toward entrepreneurship!

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Idea Generation vs Problem Generation

Idea Generation vs Problem Generation

Click play above for the video version of this post.

Idea generation is one of the most difficult aspects of teaching entrepreneurship. At colleges around the world, you hear the same business ideas over and over again:

  • A dedicated driver service.
  • A way to not you lose your keys or wallet.
  • An alcohol delivery service.

entrepreneurship, ideas, teachingYou’re also hearing ideas that are low impact:

  • Put a logo on a t-shirt.
  • Put a logo on a koozie.

Or you hear ideas that are simply infeasible from a business or realistic perspective.

A Better Way

Below we’ll describe an alternative approach to helping students generate ideas, and provide an experiential lesson plan for you to use in your classes.

Your goal is to help your students identify better business ideas. The higher quality their ideas, the higher quality businesses they’ll build, and the higher quality skills they’ll acquire in your class.

Ideally, student ideas would be simultaneously:

  1. Creative
  2. Impactful and
  3. Feasible

To accomplish the above, we typically start with a variety of idea generation exercises.

The problem is, traditional idea generation isn’t the best way to come up with these ideas.

It is almost impossible for anyone to come up with creative, impactful, and feasible business ideas. The best entrepreneurs in the world struggle to come up with ideas that fulfill these requirements; it’s no surprise that we have a difficult time helping our students come up with them.

Why Idea Generation Doesn’t Work

Before you read past this next image, I want you visualize an entrepreneur coming up with a great business idea. What does that process of coming up with an idea look like to you?

entrepreneurship, idea, teaching

Most of us imagine an entrepreneur having a “light-bulb moment”, where she is inspired to create a genius new product that is impactful and financially successful. In other words,

We think “idea generation” is synonymous with “product idea generation.”

Customers reject products.

After coming up with an impactful, creative product idea, it’s easy to imagine our entrepreneurs introducing their products to customers, who immediately embrace them for their bold thinking and innovative approach.

As you already know, this never happens in reality. Almost universally, customers reject new products whether they’re developed inside, or outside, the classroom. Why?

Because customers don’t buy products. Customers buy solutions to problems.

entrepreneurship, teaching, problem, solution, ideaWhen we teach our students to think of business ideas in terms of products, it’s no wonder they struggle. Customers don’t want products!

If we can focus our students’ attention on what customers really care about – their problems – our students can use those problems as inspiration to generate creative, impactful and feasible solutions to those problems.

What if instead of focusing on idea generation we focused on problem generation?

Starting with Problems

If we know customers buy solutions to problems, it makes sense that any entrepreneurial journey should start from a problem, not a product.

When our students focus on solving problems instead of inventing products, the customers they approach will shift from being wary and rejecting to being curious and enthusiastic. Why? Because someone is finally listening to their problems and helping them do something about it.

That’s when this problem-focused approach begins to produce empowering results:

While customers reject products, they will prepay for solutions to their problem.

It’s not up to us as instructors to decide whether business ideas are good or bad. It’s up to our students’ customers and there’s no better metric for our students to know they’ve found a good business idea than if their customers prepay, or sign a Letter of Intent, for it.

Of course, there’s no better way for your students to collect prepayments and LOIs, than for them to convince their customers that they will solve their problems.

Teaching a Lifelong Skill

When we teach problem discovery skills, we teach our students how to make empathetic connections with their customers.

Knowing how to empathetically connect with others is a lifelong skill that will reap rewards throughout their personal and professional lives, like when they’re:

  • Interviewing for jobs
  • Collaborating with co-workers
  • Connecting with their family
  • And of course, when they start their own company.

How to Teach “Problem Generation”

The first step to teaching problem generation is to help students brainstorm problems they are uniquely suited to solve. To do that, you can use this exercise, which is fully documented in the downloadable Lesson Plan below.

Step 1

Invite your students to write down three customer segments they are members of. This can be just about any three groups of people they feel like they belong to.

Some great examples would be:

  • Skateboarders
  • Vegetarians
  • Only children

Step 2

Next, invite your students to write three “passion segments.” Their passion segments will be groups of people, whom are different than their previous three segments, who they are genuinely excited to serve; people for whom they would like to solve problems.

As with Step 1, there are no right/wrong answers. Some examples would be:

  • Members of a specific religion
  • Crossfitters
  • Under-resourced youth

(Note: it’s fine if they are members of their passion segments – in fact, that’s ideal – they just can’t duplicate any of their previous segments.)

Step 3

Of the six segments they’ve brainstormed, students should now pick their top three.

It doesn’t matter whether they pick all three of their passion segments, all three of the segments they are members of, or a combination of the two. As long as they are excited about helping people in those three segments solve their problems, they’re on the right track.

(Note: a nice consequence of this exercise is you’re demonstrating creative brainstorming techniques to your students. By ideating on a number of different potential segments to serve, and then filtering/prioritizing that list of segments, you’re modeling a creative thinking technique they can use in the future.)

Step 4

With their top 3 segments identified, invite your students to hypothesize three problems members of those segments might be trying to solve right now.

For example, if a student chooses skateboarders, the student might hypothesize their customers would express a problem like, “I am having trouble transporting my skateboard on public transit.”

For Crossfitters, maybe they’d hypothesize a problem like, “I don’t how do I make sure I’m getting the right mix of nutrients in my meals.”

It doesn’t matter if the problems the students hypothesize are realistic, the goal is simply to identify several problems the entrepreneurs are uniquely suited to validate. After completing this step, each student will have identified at least nine problems they are uniquely capable of validating, because they either:

  • Experience the problem themselves or
  • They are passionate about helping the people who are experiencing it.

Of these nine problems, they can pick the problem they are most excited to validate during your course. As a bonus, if that idea gets invalidated, you’ll have helped them proactively come up with eight alternative/backup ideas they are excited to validate!

No matter which problems your students choose, their business ideas will be:

  • More feasible than typical student ideas 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 get to use those problems as inspiration (as opposed to relying on a “light-bulb moment”/devine intervention).

Get the Complete Problem Generation Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Entrepreneurship Problem Generation Lesson Plan that encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get the lesson plan

Use it as a basis to teach your students to identify problems they are uniquely suited to solve

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it the comments below so we can improve it!


Problems, Not Ideas

You want students to develop creative, impactful and feasible business ideas. Don’t focus their attention on idea generation, because customers don’t buy ideas.

Customers buy solutions to problems.

Creativity plays a critical role in entrepreneurship, but it’s not in coming up with products. Creativity is best used in entrepreneurship to brainstorm solutions to problems.

If you want your students to generate ideas that are more likely to become successful businesses, try this Problem Generation technique in your next course.

If you’d like more lesson plans like this, subscribe here to get the next one, How to get your Students Bought-In to Customer Interviews, in your inbox.

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Teaching Entrepreneurship Idea Generation

Teaching Entrepreneurship Idea Generation

When teaching entrepreneurship, how many times have you heard:

  • “I have an idea for an app that finds a parking space on campus.”
  • “It’s like Uber for . . . “
  • “I am going to design and sell t-shirts at . . . [homecoming, Greek Week, Spring Fling, etc.]”

Entrepreneurship students default to the first two ideas without thinking. The third idea is just…boring. These are all easy for students to conjure up, and offer little potential impact. As my good friend Alex Bruton says,

“Most of your ideas suck (but they don’t have to).”

You need to tell students that, so they spend less time floundering and more time flourishing.

What Is a Quality Entrepreneurship Idea?

You don’t want another coffee shop or restaurant plan. You don’t want to hear an idea about an electronic Pet Rock.

You want ideas that:

  • Solve a real problem for real people,
  • Serve a niche market accessible to the student,
  • (At least a prototype) can be pre-sold within a semester, and
  • Have the potential to scale.

You want to guide students through the struggle to identify a quality idea like:

  • A pop-up salon for female victims of domestic violence
  • An on-demand service driving food overflow from restaurants and grocery stores to families struggling to make ends meet
  • Fertility treatments that are 90% successful
  • Solar cells made exponentially more efficient through cryogenics.

Imagine an entrepreneurship classroom bustling with impactful ideas like these (BTW, current students are actively working on these ideas).

3 Ways to Generate Quality Entrepreneurship Ideas

Quality ideas are not easy to generate, especially for a typical 20-something college student with limited life experience.

Here are some easy steps to help your entrepreneurship students identify quality ideas:

  • Problem List: students list every problem they encounter or observe over the course of one Tuesday and one Saturday.
  • Observation: students identify the type of business they want to start. They spend 30 minutes observing that type of business – if retail, they wander around the store. If online, they get friends together to play with the website. Students jot down all the problems they observe customers experiencing.
  • 1-Question Interviews: students perform mini problem interviews by asking the same question of 5 different people:

    “What’s been the hardest part about work/school over the last week?”

    Require that your students speak with specific types of people so they can get used to interviewing customers (without the anxiety of approaching complete strangers):

    • A friend who attends the college
    • A friend who doesn’t attend the college
    • A friend of a friend they’ve never met before
    • A non-student who works off-campus
    • A family member

    During this exercise, your students will see that the best inspiration for high quality ideas actually comes from customers themselves.

For more details, check out our Idea Generation Lesson Plan below.

3 Questions to Assess the Quality of Entrepreneurship Ideas

How do you know, and help students test, the quality of an idea? That’s often a semester-long process (which we’ll detail in future posts), but for starters, entrepreneurship students should be able to concisely explain the following for any idea:

  • The problem it solves
  • The customer segment(s) who most painfully experiences the problem
  • Why they are the right team/person to solve this problem

Along the way, you can conduct a quick heuristic idea assessment using these questions:

  • Is it easy to understand the problem they are solving (when they explain the problem, do you furrow your brow or do you nod your head)?
  • Do the customers they identify logically experience this problem?
  • Does the student have any relevant experience, knowledge, network and/or passion for solving this problem?

For example, the founders behind Packback, while students at Illinois State University, could impress the most seasoned investors with their answers to these three questions. It is no coincidence they went on to secure a deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank.

As the Packback team says, we should all be helping:

“Awaken the fearless, relentless curiosity inside every student.”

Imagine if your students truly experienced butterflies, back sweat and breathlessness during their classroom experiences!

Imagine your students working on ideas they care about.

Imagine your students quickly testing demand through pre-orders.

Students will learn the mindset and skill set it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in this kind of high-impact learning environment.

Of course, just as entrepreneurship students need quality ideas to build impactful businesses…

We need quality ideas to build an engaging learning environment.

Download our Idea Generation Lesson Plan

We’ve created an experiential, 45-minute, Entrepreneurship Idea Generation Lesson Plan that encapsulates everything we’ve talked about above.

Get your lesson plan

Use it as a basis to teach your students:

  • What a quality business idea is
  • How they come up with lots of them
  • An intro to “customer interviews”

 

It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so please feel free to share it.

All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!


What’s Next?

In an upcoming post, we talk about how to help your students develop powerful solutions to the problems they identify!

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

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