The head fake: great exercises for teaching entrepreneurship

“If skill could be gained by watching, every dog would become a butcher.” —Turkish proverb (compliments to Tim Ferriss and the Four Hour Chef)

Sitting in a room listening to someone speak for an hour or two has rarely worked for me as an effective way to learn.  However,  I love group exercises!  My digital marketing course is built entirely around group exercises that are pretty standard brainstorming sessions.  So whenever I run across a new exercise that I think will be effective as a teaching tool, I like to bookmark it.  Here are two exercises I came across recently that I’m really excited to try out.

How much water can you sell

Selling water

Thanks to Jason Fried and 37signals for sharing this and Techstars Chicago for originally running the experiment.

Techstars challenged their nascent startups to go sell bottled water.  The rules were simple.  Each company decided how many bottles of water they wanted to start with and they couldn’t get any more later. They could charge whatever they wanted per bottle.  Whoever made the most profit won. Profit = (price per  bottle sold x # of bottles sold) – (price ber bottle bought x # of bottles remaining)

The head fake: Randy Pausch, in his book The Last Lecture called a head fake “indirect learning”.  Randy thought “the best way to teach somebody something is to have them think they’re learning something else. … the head fake here is that they’re learning to program but they just think they’re making movies and video games.”  He was talking about his novel programming tool called Alice, which used story telling through movies and games to teach kids how to program.

I love the head fake.  The head fake for selling bottled water is that if you want to sell something, you need to get out of the building and go sell it!  This is the first rule of Lean Startup (my basic primer here) or entrepreneurship more generally.  As a startup you only get good information about what the public wants to buy when you offer them something for sale.  Selling water is a good way to get startups feeling comfortable selling.

It also is a great lesson on pricing, profit and effort.  As Jason writes “It’s a lot better to only sell 110 bottles and make a profit of $108.60 than it is to sell 868 bottles and end up losing $331.20.  … I wonder how much work went into selling 868 bottles only to lose $331.21 compared to how much work went into selling 110 bottles and ending up with a $108.60 profit.”  The goal of a company isn’t to simply sell the most stuff possible at any price, normally it is to make the most profit (I would add with the least wasted corresponding effort).

Building a new wallet

wallet materials

Thanks to Jackie Gerstein at User Generated Education for blogging about design thinking and the d. school (Institute of Design at Stanford) for coming up with the wallet project.

In the wallet project, participants have 90 minutes to make a new wallet.  That means they pair up, show and tell each other about their wallets, ideate, and make a new wallet that is “useful and meaningful” to their partner.

The goal of the project is to expose anyone to “design thinking”.  As the d. school says more specifically “we hope students see the value of engaging with real people to help them ground their design decisions, that low-resolutions prototypes are useful to learn from (take an iterative approach), and to bias toward action (you can make a lot of progress in a little bit of time if you start DOing).”

That is a lot of good ideas to cram into 90 minutes!  And covers Lean Startup really neatly.  Further kudos to the d. school for making it really easy to follow their workshop.  Their website includes a step-by-step guide, with videos and all handouts, on running the wallet project yourself.

Teaching with exercises

I’m going to be teaching entrepreneurship at Oklahoma University this fall.  I’m looking forward to trying these exercises out myself.  If you have any other head fake exercises you like, let me know about them in the comments!


Posted in Design, Education, Lean Startup, Testing ideas in the real world

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