Apr
06

Intellectual Entrepreneurship and New Minds for the Future

Here’s the problem—we are facing unprecedented challenges that require new ways of thinking, and the cultivation of new capacities for innovation and problem solving. We have to revamp our entire education system from K through continuing education for adults, re-orienting it to educate people who have to think and act in a world that is more fluid and unpredictable than ever before. Beyond job retraining, we have to cultivate (to blend Daniel Pink and Howard Gardner) whole new minds for the future.

Question is how we do this, especially in Universities, which benefit from and are hindered by having been in the business of cultivating minds for a long time. Universities are in very real ways trapped by the sheer intellectual momentum of their own traditions, even as those traditions provide the grounds of possibility for innovation. Universities, especially major research Universities, run the risk of becoming the educational equivalent of a big-three automaker—doomed to irrelevance if not outright failure. Their momentum will carry them for a long way, but not indefinitely.

Of course, the seeds of radical change are always growing within these same Universities, manifested in multiple ways. For example, Universities have understood for some time that knowledge becomes most relevant when it can be applied to real world challenges, yielding new understanding and ways to engage pressing challenges. Towards this end, Universities have been the sites of pedagogical innovations like experiential learning, project based learning, internships, and mentoring, all designed to enhance a student’s education by providing “real world” application and experience. Similarly, many new forms of University-Industry partnership have emerged, focused especially on the commercialization of university-based technology or the incubation of university-based businesses.

Though powerful, these pedagogical innovations still focus on disciplines and majors and do not go far enough to cultivate the very thing that is most necessary now—individuals with the knowledge, commitment, and courage to innovate, on their own and with others. In other words, now more than ever it is imperative for Universities to foster and cultivate intellectual entrepreneurship. And, perhaps the most successful example of a university responding to this challenge is a program at the University of Texas at Austin that takes this imperative as its very name—the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium (IE). In upcoming posts, there will be much more about the concept and enactment of intellectual entrepreneurship, drawing from the work of IE at the University of Texas.

I will conclude this post, though, by sketching some of the principles that have guided IE at UT Austin and provide a critical framework for the growth of intellectual entrepreneurship as a concept and practice. First, entrepreneurship transcends the creation of new businesses or ventures. While new venture creation is one of the most powerful expressions of an entrepreneur, at their core entrepreneurs are cultural innovators. Entrepreneurs are tuned in to the deeper cultural currents from which new meanings and imperatives emerge. They are able to create new space within which those meanings and imperatives can be articulated and engaged. Second, entrepreneurs have the courage to act first, before they know the answers, or even all the questions. They are comfortable with ambiguity, and while they are oriented to solving problems, they recognize that one problem’s solution lays the ground for an entirely new set of problems. Third, despite the cultural myth of the entrepreneur as lone ranger, entrepreneurs are profoundly connected and collaborative. They always have a double mission—engaging opportunities as they emerge and sustaining a living web of relationships that makes innovation and valuable change possible. Finally, entrepreneurs see through the cult of creativity, the belief that only certain people are creative or can be the source or profound and valuable change. Entrepreneurs understand that we are all creative, all capable of engaging our own situations for the better, and all capable of continually building this capacity. Which brings me back to where this post began—our greatest imperative now is to teach everyone we can how to be entrepreneurial and creative, inside the university and out.

  • Amen!

  • Dick Richardson

    I have a Natural Resource Management class that allows any Junior or Senior or Graduate student to register. That’s the way “life after college” becomes in the professional world. Students begin to relax and collaborate instead of worrying about a grade. This is one way to connect the ivory TOWERS into one complex intellectual web. THAT’S what Intellectual Entrepreneurship means for me. This naturally blends The Arts with The Sciences with Engineering with Business and with Public Policy. That is a Multiversity becomes a University.
    http://www.utexas.edu/courses/resource/

  • Looking forward to hearing more about the program, Tommy. How much does pedagogical innovation require a breaking down of the silos between different academic disciplines? Developing people who are more “comprehensivists” (more on my Buckminster Fuller blog entry on this site) seems crucial and yet I’m not sure how that would really happen.

  • Acting without all the answers is important to remember for the would-be intellectual entrepreneur–especially if (s)he has a prominent Perceiving (P) tendency in MBTI terms. We can be so busy gathering info that we neglect acting!

  • being an entrepreneur is one of the ways you can easily achieve financial freedom”*-

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