Lecture 7
23 October 2012

If you’ve been following the blog you may have picked up on the fact that entrepreneurship is part commercial opportunity and part personal journey.  To say that tonight’s session had a focus on personal journey would be something of an understatement!  And if I had to pick a predominant theme I think it may be around the management of anxiety.

How are the students progressing?

David opened the evening a little differently tonight, jumping into student presentations without delay.

Incisive Technologies commenced with a bold observation.  Their early survey results had indicated a consumer willingness to buy approaching 100%.  With the benefit of time to reflect, the team has taken the prudent course of revisiting their research, adopting a more open ended style of questioning, netting a significantly different (and presumably more realistic) estimate of uptake.

With new data, they’ve recalculated their financial model and concluded that 2% market share will deliver a financial break even.  Not a bad position!!

Get Deals has undergone a name change, having discovered the unavailability of their  business name.  Now known as Quote2.me, the team has been testing the hypothesis that their service will drive traffic into retail stores and are experimenting to connect buyers with sellers.

Their next step is to design a Minimum Viable Product which will allow them to think about the customer experience and to identify project risks.

FriendsNet (formerly Reliable Ratings)  have focused on understanding the competitive landscape this week, seeking to identify where they fit in the market. The team believes there is an opportunity however a ‘vacancy’ in the market has caused them to wonder whether their idea is indeed a good one!

A series of focus groups designed to explore their idea has surfaced a number of concerns including privacy, a feeling of guilt through failure to respond to on-line invitations, and the sense of ‘information overload’ when receiving yet another item to action.

Untapped Energy has been using the skills of advanced engineering students to conduct energy audits and in the process has evolved an interesting new business model. With the goal of empowering students, the team is now focused on the concept of placing students into roles in accordance with their passion and values.  A sort of e-Harmony approach to matching engineering students with employment opportunities!  Students interviewed have expressed an overwhelming willingness to pay for such a service.  An impressive example of the concept discussed last week – don’t be afraid to pivot if you find yourself heading in an unhelpful direction!!

An interesting question followed the student presentations, relating to competition, accompanied by an equally interesting response :  The fact that someone else has a similar offering suggests you may have  a really good idea!!  It is imperative that you define yourself in terms of your customer, not your competitor.  As often, a lovely metaphor for life.  How often are we tempted to compare ourselves with others, quietly longing for their success?  Surely the better path is to celebrate our own gifts, and to measure our success in terms of the quality of our relationships with those who truly matter in our lives.

The Power of Reflection

A review of student reflections by David revealed a few key themes…

  • As with last week (but presumably amplified as we are one week closer to the end of the course!!) anxiety around pivoting;
  • Difficulties in getting a team to work;
  • The challenge to step into an ‘anti clockwise’ (customer centric) world when the temptation is to sit in a clockwise (solution centric) world;
  • Anxiety around where you are right now (ie, many unknowns, incompletes, uncertainties) and your desire to resolve the anxiety in the rush to week 12;

And a simple piece of advice : anxiety can only be managed once it has been surfaced.  And taking action alleviates anxiety, provided the action is not driven by fear.

Unpacking the Fear

At this point David spent time further exploring the notion of fear, its sources and its impact on our behaviours.

It seems that when we are anxious we sometimes deal with people a little differently –   in fact we may tend to objectify them, a point that David illustrated very powerfully with a story about an epileptic woman.   On a busy Hong Kong street the woman had a fit, falling to the pavement.  It is estimated that over the course of the next four hours, some 30,000  people walked past, not one having the courage to see her as a person in need of assistance.  And there she died.

A tragic story that drives home the point that when we act out of fear, our decision making ability can be significantly impaired.

And what sits behind this?  Perhaps it is failure to believe in something that is more important than aspirations based simply in our own ego? Perhaps it is belief in accomplishing something that surpasses our ego that will enable us to conquer fear and to act in a manner that will truly make a meaningful difference.

Entrepreneurship in Education?

Tonight’s speaker was David Loader OAM, well known to many as an accomplished educator and retired principal of Methodist Ladies’ College (MLC), and of Wesley College, two of Melbourne’s most respected private schools.

Initially I was unsure as to why David had been invited to speak to the students.  It seemed unclear to me that a school principal could be regarded as an entrepreneur.  Once he took to the floor (as well as being an engaging speaker), it became obvious that David was an exceptional intrapreneur (an entrepreneur operating within a corporate structure).  Which makes rather a lot of sense given (I’m guessing) many students will, at some point in their careers, assume intrapreneurial roles.

David began by sharing his educational vision – or perhaps frustration.  He described a scenario (no doubt faced by many schools) relating to the distribution of students across classroom groups within a given year level.  The fundamental question is whether to integrate or segregate students of high potential.  Do you cluster them in a single class or do you scatter them across the student cohort?  The ideal answer lies in the development of individualised learning programs for each student –  a vision that David was to realise in 1991 through the introduction of laptop computers.  But in a conservative school where fees were high and the concept unproven, it was not an easy sell.

Listen to David tell the story.  And the universal lesson?  Believe in the idea, even when your confidence may be waning…

And so to 2012, and with many educational challenges remaining, David has a new vision : to transform education through disruptive innovation.  Again he embarks on a program of change underpinned by the deployment of technology.

(Disruptive innovation is a term introduced by Harvard Business School Professor, Clayton Christensen.   According to Christensen, disruptive innovation makes a product so much more affordable and accessible that a much larger population have access to it.)

David’s notion is that e-learning will transform education by enabling customers to assemble the various ‘components’ they require, thus creating a customised and highly relevant educational experience.  David explains….

Students listen intently as it becomes apparent that David is not simply a man of vision.  He is a man who has the belief in his dream, the ability to infect those around him with his energy, and the tenacity to hang on in the face of significant opposition.

The floor is opened to questions (I’ve included a number of short video segments here as David tells it much better than I do!!)….

Q : What prompted you to take the risk and invest the energy in introducing laptops?

A : I did not believe schools were doing a good job.  I wanted to answer the question ‘how are we going to organise kids for better learning?’  And with a long history of fighting conventional wisdom,  I felt the need to change school.  I wanted everyone to win, not just the elite.

Q : Is it easy to implement reforms when you are a principal?

A: Yes, in one sense, but why aren’t principals doing it?

Q: In some ways nothing has changed in 20 years?

A: There has been incremental change, however we still assume there is a fixed body of knowledge we have to work through.  Change has been marginal, and there is a growing recognition that things aren’t good enough.  And because of this, opportunity abounds…

Q: What does success look like?

A: David provides a wonderful description of his goal – that is to grow people, not simply to imbue them with knowledge that may be of little relevance to them in their worlds.  Take a look…

Q:  How did you get others, who may have had varying levels of belief in your idea, to believe?  How did you manage the anxiety of the team?

A:  Belief goes up and down, confidence is not constant.  But if you are responsible, you need to stay with it.  And someone has to take responsibility.  In this small video clip David explains his philosophy…

David concluded his session in response to a question around measurement of educational outcomes.  Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said: “I want Australian schools to be back in the top five schooling systems in the world as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).”

David has a wonderful response : our education system should be endeavouring to grow creative individuals.  We want to grow great people for whom life is worthwhile…

(David has recently written an article on innovation in education, published in the Melbourne Age.  You can find the article here.)

An uplifting way to end the evening and a superb reminder of what the leadership of one person of vision can accomplish.

In closing, David Austin draws out what I suspect may be a timely lesson for the students :

“The power of belief in your ability to change an outcome will carry you through the anxiety.   If you can manage the fear and function with clarity, you can make extraordinary things happen.”

The lecture concluded at 9:15pm and, as is typically the way, students remain in the room well after 10pm.  It has been a remarkable evening.  And I suspect the notion of applying their emerging entrepreneurial skills to the field of education holds a certain appeal to those whose own experience of education has been less than fulfilling.

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