From the Director: An Article on Entrepreneurial Thinking

Mark Werwath, MEM DirectorI am sure there are many people who wonder why we need to include entrepreneurial thinking in a robust curriculum here at NU. Clearly many companies are struggling to grow their topline (revenue) in an organic fashion (not through mergers or acquisitions). Organic growth is an elusive thing for many companies. Think about Apple and how they have grown their company since the launch of iPhone and much of their growth has been accomplished through growing their penetration into new and emerging markets. Successful revenue growth through new products, new services and new business models is elusive for many companies.

The idea behind entrepreneurial thinking is to expand the number of contributors towards organic growth to nearly everybody in the organization. Organic growth should not be the exclusive domain of the product development department or the strategy department. This kind of thinking embodies and leverages the concept of creative destruction, that the best way to become obsolete is to obsolete yourself. This approach of radical innovation needs to be reduced to practice by every corner of the organization.

Should oil companies be investing in clean tech energy and sustainable solutions? Should GM be investing in electric cars, autonomous cars and mobility solutions? Should Apple go into the streaming business? Should the New York Times get into the video content business? I think the answer in all these cases is not only yes, but guess what - it is already happening!

GM has started a business called Maven that integrates mobility with autonomy and electrification into a strategic thrust for their future, one that requires investment of time, talent and capital. One that will require those assigned to Maven to be far more entrepreneurial than the GM employee of yesteryear. Think about the number of businesses started by Google, Amazon and Uber. Just those three companies have started so many businesses that it would be a challenge to inventory them all. Why start to so many new products or businesses? Why be so creative when you are already so successful? Well, the landscape is littered with companies who lost their creative edge, companies that once were on top or near the top and now are struggling or have failed. These are companies that failed to obsolete themselves and retained their old business models for too long. Kodak is a classic example, but there are many others. Just in Chicago we had Lucent, Motorola, Tellabs, US Robotics, Western Electric, Zenith and many others that were great at one time and now have declined.

So why pursue entrepreneurial thinking amongst students? What is the value to think and plan and act with an eye towards monetization and revenue growth? Why would resilience, tenacity, creativity and lean thinking be valuable in the real world? I think about 10 minutes with industry leaders will help answer that question. My sense is that we all understand the problems of our current day modern society, but few have answers that can actually be implemented in a financially sustainable way. It is no great revelation that entrepreneurship can be harnessed to propagate solutions that will help solve some of these massive problems. If you doubt this, examine for a moment the companies that Elon Musk has helped create and propagate, companies focused on deploying electric and autonomous vehicles (and opening his company IP to allow others to follow in his footsteps), deploying solar power generation, and deploying space systems to harness the resources of the universe. These are big ideas, there was once upon a time when we as Americans were allowed to think and dream and act in a big way. It is now our turn.