Does Entrepreneurship come from Experiential Learning?
Allyson Savin NU’07 and Jim Stellar
Allyson was one of the most impressive of the student leaders with whom I had the privilege of working when I was Dean at Northeastern University. A graduate of the Business College, she is now working in the very timely field of bank regulating for the federal government. Over our extensive contact during and after her college experience, one element of our recurring conversation has been about individual leadership and how that taking that responsibility can not only lead to growth of the individual person but help the society.
So to begin, let’s ask Allyson how she defines entrepreneurship and particularly at the level of an individual.
When I think of entrepreneurship, I immediately seek to differentiate between being an entrepreneur versus possessing the spirit of entrepreneurship – two concepts which I do not take to mean the same thing.
Anyone can have the spirit of entrepreneurship without actually being an entrepreneur. The spirit often contains the unyielding need to attain a sense of achievement or accomplishment (broadly defined as success) and a creative approach for how to make processes/people/organizations better. While being an entrepreneur often requires seeing an opportunity and taking the necessary risks to realize its potential.
But to be honest, I think the original question is limiting. I think that starting with entrepreneurship as a jumping off point immediately conjures the image of a small business owner or risk taker (despite my assertion that there could be multiple interpretations of the word). Yet, if I understand the purpose of the blog correctly, I’d have to say that a different starting point, say for example, “what role does the feeling of success play in developing an individual?” might provide a better insight into individual leadership and how taking the responsibility can lead to growth of not only the individual, but also lead that person to help society.
For example, are some individuals happier, more motivated, or more successful if they are able to shape the definition of success to fit their lives? Or, does a person need to fit their life to an unwavering definition of success?
Keep in mind that the notion of success is not black and white or exclusive of many of the other ideas we have talked about during our mentor/mentee relationship. For example, as it relates to entrepreneurship, is success merely defined as starting a successful venture? Or can success be found from lessons learned on a “failed” attempt?
In regards to the TED talk by Barry Schwarz on practical wisdom that we discussed a while back– the speaker argues that successful completion of a list of job responsibilities for a hospital janitor may not equate to success. Alternatively, applying practical wisdom to a list of job responsibilities may produce better results – or in other words, more success.
To start at entrepreneurship is really to start at too micro of a level. If I were to put a theme to our conversations, I would argue that it is “success and how people define it, achieve it, and inspire it from others”. And to draw on your neuroscience background, I would pose this question to you:
What impact do you think EQ versus IQ has on an individual’s success?
To answer your last question first, I think the combination of EQ and IQ is critical. It is like firing both booster rockets in one’s career development whether in getting the job after college or in getting further higher education in law, medical, business, graduate, or other schooling. While my career was more in the molecular neuroscience direction, my general reading of human cognitive neurology is that many processes happen at once in the brain and that somehow they get integrated into a stream of behavior. At a very macro level we could call that a career path that fits with who the person believes they are (interests, strengths, …). The field has seen before thinking that combines broad brain areas, such as a language functioning left hemisphere vs. a spatial functioning right hemisphere. I think this EQ vs IQ queston could be another one with the developing cognitive knowledge being seen in contrast to the growing emotional (limbic system?) knowledge of oneself and of the world into which that knowledge is applied.
But to go back a bit, I want to accept and say that I really like the re-specification of the question you made by focusing on that “spirit of entrepreneurship” and “feeling of success” ideas. I like it here particularly because it allows me to ask you a key “otherlobe” question: How did you feel your experiences in college on cooperative education programs and/or as a student leader helped you develop this trait in you? Or did it?
I could have attended a “better” school – one that had more name recognition or was better ranked; however, and this is critical, I do not think I could have attended a school that did more for me by way of cooperative education and student leadership. While those two components did not create my spirit of entrepreneurship or need to define, and at times, redefine success, they gave them a foot hold and jumping off point. Without my co-ops, I would not have known to add on finance as my third concentration/major. And it was that decision that has, by many standards, allowed me to be successful right out of college. Further, without my student leadership experiences, I would not have been able to foster my spirit of entrepreneurship. As Executive VP of the Student Government, I had my first real chance to quench my unyielding need to succeed, which for me meant leaving processes, people, and organizations at the University better than where I found them.
So when you ask “how my experiences in college helped develop my spirit of entrepreneurship and feeling of success?” the answer is easy – without those experiences, I wouldn’t even be collaborating with you on this blog right now. In other words, without those experiences, I may still be searching for my jumping off point.
The words “jumping off point” seem to us again to summarize the contributions that experience can make to education and to leadership. No one knows from where the next word or thought comes when we are speaking. Yet it is the quality of a leader to be able to live in that world of continuous creativity working with what is being presented at the moment (usually by people) to mobilize a group or even an idea into action. We think that mentoring (a real experience with a real person), working, even interacting with students outside of a class (informal learning?) is all part of how experience teaches the receptive student how to take their academic knowledge and tie it to real world concerns. While we keep reflecting on the basic question asked in the title, another question for us to is how does a receptive college/university maximize that learning so that the students are more work-ready and grow to the highest extent possible to be ready for still more learning? What do you think?