What education and entrepreneurship (could) have in common

I had two parallel conversations yesterday: one with a student, one with an alum; one about 3D modeling, one about starting a business. Both benefitted from the same methodology and disciplined thinking. Both focused on the utility of testing, as an active process, and validated learning: both were about entrepreneurship.

The alum is in the early stages of developing a business that relies on mobile technology. But the bulk of our conversation didn’t focus on developing the tech — it focused on all of the foundation work that should precede it. Building the technology and then trying to sell would create a long, expensive feedback loop for her to know if she was on the right track. But market research, competitive analysis, and focus groups could (in)validate the value proposition of her business quickly and cheaply before spending time and money creating the mobile technology itself. Tightening the feedback loop in order to learn quickly is, in many respects, the essence of entrepreneurship.

The student is designing 3D-printed wearables and accessories (think bags, clutches, high-heeled shoes, etc). She got stuck this week, and on Friday we were discussing how to move forward. Our conversation on Friday was about 3D printing but the process we discussed was about finding the cheapest way to tighten the feedback loop and learn what she needed to move forward:

Q: Can I do a test print on the 3D printer? I want to hold my model and see how it feels.

A: Sure, but if we’re going to spend the time and plastic to 3D print your model, we need to know specifically what you’re trying to learn. Does it need to be at full scale? Can you learn what you want by printing your model at quarter scale? Or by folding and taping paper instead? Or by sketching it with a pencil?

Both of these cases required a few key things:

  • disciplined, strategic thinking
  • a careful eye toward framing the problem, not just finding the solution
  • agency and permission to make meaningful decisions
  • an intentional use of tests to validate learning and reduce unknowns.

It is this last idea in particular that I would be delighted to see take root in education. What if students didn’t just take tests, passively, but instead they sought them out, participated in designing them, and then used them as stepping stones toward their larger goals?


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