When it comes to sharp-minded, entrepreneurial instincts, too often, people either believe you’ve got it or you don’t.
The executive education program at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary is changing its core curriculum to disprove this mindset and show that entrepreneurial skills don’t have to be innate: they can be developed and honed. Now, an entrepreneurial thinking course is required for all Haskayne Business School students at both the graduate and undergraduate level. At the heart of this sea change is the program’s insight that entrepreneurial thinking fundamentally differs from the traditional business approach to problem solving.
“Entrepreneurial thinking is more than just a required course in entrepreneurship, it is an overlooked form of business thinking,” says Derek Hassay, professor of this new course at Haskayne. “Just like managerial or strategic thinking, we believe that entrepreneurial thinking is an essential piece of any current or future leader’s education…Given the changing nature of work, the pace of technological innovation and an increasingly complex global economy, it is our belief that an entrepreneurial mindset is no longer a desirable individual trait, but rather a leadership imperative. Firms that are unable to innovate and keep pace will cease to be relevant. Leaders that cannot create the cultural and procedural platforms to foster and support such innovation will be displaced.”
It’s no surprise that Haskayne in Calgary is making an effort to position its graduates to be more nimble and innovative leaders. With some 30-percent of the program’s students working in the energy industry, Haskayne is introducing a new crop of leaders to reinvigorate the oil and gas sectors.“We believe that the timing for this is perfect given the recent challenges within the energy sector and the associated influence this sector has had on the broader Canadian economy,” Hassay tells Ivy Exec. These future innovators will need to think differently than their predecessors to achieve success and keep their industry heading in the right direction.
But the lessons learned in the entrepreneurial thinking course are not unique to the energy sector. Instead, Hassay believes that students who enter a broad range of industries can benefit from embracing this novel way of approaching risk, failure, and innovation.
“Entrepreneurial thinking can be applied to a multitude of industries including but not limited to high-tech, consulting, government, professional services, non-profits, and so forth,” Hassay explains. “The course seeks to counter myths about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship by stressing the importance of entrepreneurial risk mitigation, the role of market-driven innovation and the importance of a ‘fail early fail cheaply’ mentality…Students learn that failure is not a possible end state, but rather an essential part of the innovation process. Persistence is born not of stubbornness, but rather out of the need to creatively solve unique problems…[And they] learn that entrepreneurial thinking is not just the domain of the C-Suite but is needed in all levels of an organization and can be cultivated.”
Recent graduates of the course are already singing its praises, crediting it with changing their approaches to challenges for the better. Luke West is a principal consultant for Calgary-based Cale Consulting Inc. Since completing Haskayne’s EMBA program in 2015, West has swiftly put his education into practice by starting up two new businesses. For one of these endeavors, West notes that the lessons learned in the entrepreneurial thinking class directly impacted the way he developed his new company.
“My partner and I used the concepts taught in the entrepreneurial thinking course to develop a tiny idea into what we believe will be a disruptive innovation to the management consulting industry,” West says. “We found an opportunity, refined the idea, pivoted where we needed to, and used limited resources to develop a business: that’s entrepreneurial thinking in its most basic form.”
Even more broadly, West credits the course with changing his mindset toward the myriad of obstacles that inevitably arise on the road to success.
“The course on entrepreneurial thinking has impacted my career quite positively,” West says. “More often than not, we look at challenges and roadblocks in the workplace as ‘progress killers.’ I look at challenges and roadblocks as opportunities—opportunities to innovate, opportunities to create. This is a difficult concept for some people. We’ve been programmed to apply proven methods or best practices to solve our problems, and then when those fail, we look for other conventional means. The entrepreneurial thinking course works to activate our creative juices and so that we think differently about our approach to problem solving.”
Renée Francis is a communications advisor for another Calgary-based company, WestJet. After completing her EMBA with Haskayne in 2016, she says that she is already putting her newly-honed entrepreneurial mindset to good use.
“My mindset around managing risk is different after this class,” Francis tells Ivy Exec. “It’s not about taking crazy risks, it’s about solving problems and creating value. I’m confident in my ability to apply all I’ve learned in my MBA to an entrepreneurial venture, creating a solid business model and building a team to help get me there.”
In particular, Francis is grateful for the course’s emphasis on learning to pivot as a means of embracing change—a particularly valuable lesson for her, given that she works in the ever-evolving aviation industry.
“One of my biggest takeaways was the concept of pivoting, and how resilient I can be through that process. Plus, a pivot is almost required to get the best idea or model, so I’m hungry for things to evolve and change,” Francis explains. “The entrepreneurial thinking class energized me into focusing on what’s possible, and at the same time made me realize some of my core values and competencies could be very helpful in an entrepreneurial context. I had the entrepreneurial spirit and didn’t know how much of my career had actually been built on finding and keeping that spirit alive. I felt like I had finally found my place in business school.”
Professor Hassay seconds this notion that entrepreneurial thinking is central to the Haskayne way of approaching today’s dynamic business world.
“We believe that entrepreneurial thinking is part of the DNA of a Haskayne graduate and what business students will need to be successful in the future,” he says. “As Einstein said: ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’”
The Alberta Haskayne EMBA is Ivy Exec’s #18 top-ranked executive education program for 2016. To learn more about Haskayne’s program and to view other top-ranked programs, visit our list of 2016’s best schools here.