To me, a real entrepreneurial mindset comes from the belief that we can create opportunities from every problem, even if this means generating money with hardly any seed money or time. With this in mind, I want to challenge you: How would you try and earn as much income as possible, from a starting capital of mere five dollars?
This was exactly the assignment which Tina Seelig gave to one of her classes at the Stanford University. She formed teams in her class that were each given an envelope with their five dollars seed money, and instructed them as follows: They could spend as much time as they wanted thinking about ideas, but once they opened they envelope, they would have 2 hours to generate as much income as possible. All the teams would then present their project in front of the class.
Her students came up with a range of ideas: From opening a lemonade stand, setting up a car wash, or fixing bikes on campus, they came up with numerous examples that showed that it was possible to make money, even under such difficult constraints. The more open they were to think creatively, the better they did.
The winners came up with something particularly smart, and raised 650 USD in less than two hours! I will come back to their idea, in a minute. Like the other teams that did best, they realized it was best not to focus the five dollars at all, and rather seek solutions that required no money at all.
One team, for example did this, when they noticed the problem of huge lines at popular restaurants on weekends, and paired off to book reservations that they would sell to customers stuck in the queue.
The key skill for the students was the ability to transform problems into opportunities. They did this by finding creative ways to leverage their limited resources such as time and money as well as they could. This required imagination, and persistence.
In fact, the biggest killer to such creative thinking is the fear of making mistakes, drilled into many of our heads in schools that taught us that there is only one right answer to a problem. The famous inventor Thomas Edison, after revealingly failing to design a working light bulb, famously said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.
To become a creative thinker, we need to become comfortable with trying out things, and even failing, without ever throwing the towel. Only by having the mindset of an open minded problem solver, are we able to see the world with a fresh pair of lenses that allows us to transform problems into solutions.
This brings me back to the winning team, who decided to sell their most valuable commodity, their time to present their project to a class full of gifted Stanford students. They sold their 3 minute slot in class to a company eager to recruit future graduates 😉
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