Can you really teach big picture thinking? As a dyslexic academic, I use my big picture thinking (or ‘dyslexia superpower’) every day. Throughout my lecturing career I have tried to develop pedagogical techniques that can support my students’ learning by stimulating their big picture thinking. In the context of my discipline, entrepreneurship, I understandably call this ‘entrepreneurial thinking’ but it’s really the same thing – seeing patterns in complexity. In fact, my department (Department of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation) has developed quite a reputation for doing just this at undergraduate, postgraduate and executive levels. So, perhaps it’s not surprising I was asked to develop and deliver a workshop to stimulate entrepreneurial thinking in environmental doctoral students –hosted in a NERC-funded Doctoral Training Centre called ENVISION.
Myself and two colleagues (Dr Joanne Larty and Dr Ricardo Zozimo) set about doing just this and last week delivered a 3-day ‘Stimulating Entrepreneurial Thinking in Scientists’ (SETS) workshop at Lancaster University.
Before revealing what happened, I will explain what we designed and why. Our learning objective was to provide an opportunity for environmental doctoral students to learn by doing or experiencing entrepreneurial thinking in practice. Day One: was all about suspending their disbelief and giving them permission to be creative (idea generation), select good ideas (opportunity recognition), understand what might be needed to deliver (exploitation) and explain this to others using business models. In mixed groups, they gradually became more confident and all teams pitched their best idea to each other – we filmed these.
Day Two: started by watching the previous days wining pitch and discussing why it won, then the focus moved to responding to four business challenges (energy, food, waste and water), using problem trees and finished with teams pitching their solutions to a panel of experts. Interestingly, the groups were deliberately different from Day One and centred around the students’ own research expertise – we even provided printed coloured (organic – of course!) t-shirts: RED energy, GREEN food, BLACK waste and BLUE water.
And finally, Day Three: again, started by watching the previous days winning pitch and discussing why it won, then shifted to addressing a global challenge (around water in West Africa) in interdisciplinary teams pulling together expertise from each of the teams formed in Day Two. Each team also included a member with direct experience of West Africa. The task was simply to submitted a two-page ‘expression of interest’ by 2pm and attend an interview with an expert panel. The winner was an impressive team focusing on sustainable rice production linked to water management and entrepreneurial community building using advances in drought resistant rice species and optimum fertiliser usage.
Academic readers will already have recognised the link to the Global Challenges Research Fund call – £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries through: challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research; strengthening capacity for research and innovation within both the UK and developing countries; providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need.
This 2-minute video (played just before the panel interviews) captures the energetic team working and fun of the three days!
Stimulating Entrepreneurial Thinking in Scientists Video
It was fascinating to work with future scientists and see the power of structured big picture learning through role play, team working and responding to staged challenges. Developing the ability to articulate the value or impact of environmental sciences to terms of addressing global challenges has never been more important.
The full video of Stimulating Entrepreneurial Thinking in Scientists programme