Entrepreneurial Thinking with Jennifer Kuan

Video Transcript

I am Jenny Kuan and I teach entrepreneurship and strategy in the MBA program at California State University, Monterey Bay.

Entrepreneurial thinking is the kind of approach to problem solving that we teach in entrepreneurship. It involves focusing on a problem that you're trying to solve and testing various ideas for solving that as early and as often, and as quickly and cheaply, as possible. It also involves really owning the problem and the solution and the search for solutions. And so it's a super valuable approach and attitude for people working in big companies as well as startups. It is important for large companies, especially what I would think of as the best companies, the ones that are innovative and, try always solving new problems or trying to solve problems better. The reason that entrepreneurial thinking is important is that it involves creativity and real ownership by employees, by members of a team. So it's the type of work that entrepreneurs have to do and that we teach in our classes, but it applies directly to innovative firms, firms that are growing and firms that are always seeking to do better.

Some of the characteristics of people who think with an entrepreneurial mindset, what they look like is they're quick and decisive, but that's because there's a process in which they take initiative, they own problems, they own solutions, and they are quickly going through creative ideas. They're quickly testing their assumptions, quickly testing hypotheses, ideas. And so what they're able to do is to act with decisiveness and also to do it, again, quickly. And so there's an agility also to the way entrepreneurial thinkers behave and approach problems and solutions.

I think there are two obstacles to people, taking action. One is that they don't know how to start. So what we try to do is break it down. And so we use a lean startup method, which has been really effective. but the other is this fear factor. People are afraid, they're afraid to take this the first step. They're afraid that they might be wrong about something, they're afraid of that they can't, they don't have the skills, the abilities, the capabilities to do something. So for me, breaking down that fear, trying to take that fear away is so hard, but it is so important. And one of the ways that I try to think about that is, let's focus not on possible failure, but instead on the questions, on the things that you have control over, which is let's get answers to some questions. ost people aren't afraid of that. So if we can focus on that process, that scientific process, make that very formal and you know, something that is detached from your own skills, from your own abilities, your own capabilities, things that you fear you don't have. Instead we're focusing on the question. We're focusing on the things that we can do, asking people about, you know, assumptions that we have about hypotheses that we have. If we can do that, we can break down the fear and focus on your curiosity, focus on getting answers, getting data, getting information.

The way to sort of cultivate this mindset is practice. The way we approach teaching this is we start with a problem where students start with the problem and they go through the thought process of: what are some solutions, who are customers who might pay for this sort of thing? And then come up with a list of assumptions that they've made about whether that's about customers, whether it's about solutions, whether it's even about the problem — Is this a problem? they also think about ideas, creative solutions, coming up with hypotheses for what might work and quickly going out to test them, which means talking to people early and often out in the real world, but focusing on whether your assumptions were correct, whether your hypotheses are right, whether your ideas are good, and doing this in a sort of what we would call a scientific approach so that you're getting good answers and good information and possibly even new good ideas. So practicing that, which is say, getting out, talking to people early and often is hard for people to do a lot of times, but getting a little bit of practice, getting some muscle memory is essential to getting that entrepreneurial mindset and then taking all that new information, incorporating that back in without self-recrimination, without creating self-doubt. That's another muscle that we really think is important to exercise.

At Cal State Monterey Bay, we build our whole program around entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial thinking. Our final kind of capstone class is Entrepreneurship and Atrategy. So most, programs, the capstone is a strategy class. It's where all of the other classes that you've had kind of roll up and are, are used together. in a strategic plan, what we do is to bring in that entrepreneurial element. So you're doing what we just talked about, the lean startup method where you're starting up a company, you're using all of the stuff that you've learned throughout the MBA, but here it's for an entrepreneurial project and it's got all of the strategy that you would normally get in a strategy class as well. So, again, this gives you some practice working some muscles that you wouldn't necessarily be doing in a, in a normal strategy class. You're getting that in our Entrepreneurship and Strategy capstone.