A Passionate Outlook on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Continued Learning TXT

Transcript for "A Passionate Outlook on Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Continued Learning" podcast.

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Thank you for tuning into our first podcast series supporting lifelong learning and business career development needs. This podcast showcases the expertise of our Smeal College of Business professors as thought leaders in business and industry. My name is Jennifer Nicholas and I'm hosting our conversation today as a lifelong learner myself, and the assistant director of Smeal Alumni Career Services. 

We're pleased to have with us Dr. Shawn Clark, Michael J. Farrell professor of entrepreneurship. To start out, please give us a brief overview of your research and the programs you teach. 

Thank you very much, Jennifer. My teaching and research tend to focus on three primary knowledge domains. One, all lumped together, which is called innovation and entrepreneurship. So I count that as one category of knowledge where I spend my time. I also teach and research, to some extent, management consulting and business architecture modeling. Occasionally I branch off on that to teach executive decision making. I do that for executive programs here at Penn State. 

And it also mentioned that I teach at various levels. So I teach at the undergraduate level, resident MBA, online MBA, executive MBA, and in the executive program. So I'm fortunate enough to interact with many different stakeholders of different ages and background experiences. And that also benefits me to gain insight into where people are at in their careers and in their education. Now, my interest in those three areas evolves out of my interest in organizations in general, like the architecture of a business organization comes from my experience in organizational behavior, and that interest in how organizations work in there as a whole, is something that stays with me. 

I also have a consulting background. I was at IBM for five years and I've been involved with other consulting firms. And for that reason I have a tremendous interest in the field of consulting. This is a profession that is designed to get results and facilitate change. I've launched my own startups and then, of course, as director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, we support other types of research related to innovation. 

Thank you. What are your favorite researcher instructional topics that relate to what's happening now in business and industry? 

It's going to become obvious what my favorite is, but I have a lot of passions. But when you ask me that question I first think of entrepreneurship and innovation. And I'll tell you why. Because business is in a place now where everything is so dynamic, so complex, moving so fast, that there is a requirement to be innovative just to stay-- just to be stable, you have to move fast. All companies now are thinking about innovation, entrepreneurship. In fact we get calls occasionally from organizations saying, can you come in and train all of our employees about how to have an entrepreneurial mindset? 

In other words, we need everyone thinking about how to make business improvements, how to come up with new products. What new services might help support the business. So there's a lot of activity around keeping bureaucracies and organizations that tend to become stale over time, how to make them more innovative. 

The other reason I like the topic of innovation and entrepreneurship is that it attracts a unique class of people that I find fun to work with. So, self-starters, people who are open to change, risk takers, people who convey optimism, creative thinkers. Those are the kinds of people that are attracted to this topic and come to these classes. They're the kinds of people who don't want to sit in a cubicle for their entire career, but they want to branch out, they want to do something different. 

And especially the people I love in this area are ones who want to make a difference and have a positive impact. And you could even push it so far as to say that they start to look and feel like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. People that wanted to change the world. I think all of us in our hearts have this desire to want to change the world in a positive way. And those are the kinds of people that come into these classes and focus on these topics. 

Well that's very exciting. I know that it's impossible to predict the future, but to the extent that you can forecast trends, what can we or should we expect regarding the field of corporate innovation and entrepreneurship 10 years from now? 

You want my honest answer? 

Of course. 



What you can expect is that the world is going to be turned upside down. It's already happening, and I can't even begin to tell you the many ways that things are going to change. I mean it's kind of like, hang on, get ready, and be part of it. To me, it's exciting. I mean, it's partially terrifying, but ultimately exciting, what's happening. 

So, primarily driven by the advances in technology, they're going to change everything. Artificial intelligence is showing up everywhere. If you just quickly scan the headlines of business periodicals, there are suggestions that artificial intelligence could replace lawyers, for example. In other words, you have legal issues, legal questions, you just talk to some AI-driven agent on the telephone, or a blockchain. 

Blockchain's beginning to-- is eliminating brokers and potentially banks. I mean, there's just such crazy stuff that's now coming with advancements in technology. Telemedicine is reaching a point where they can now do surgery from-- somebody can do surgery on my shoulder from the other side of the world, not even be in the room with me. There are robots in manufacturing, where their entire facilities-- these have been around for a while, but we're seeing they're more prevalent now-- manufacturing facilities where there are practically no people involved. So what will that mean for our economy, for careers, and so forth? 

Autonomous vehicles. I was fortunate to have lunch with three experts in robotics and autonomous vehicles from Penn State. Just having lunch it was suggested that in the future, if the trend continues towards autonomous vehicles, there'll be no traffic lights. There'll be no stop signs. There'll be no windshields in cars because glass is heavy and it's not fuel efficient. 

You'll, rather than sit facing the front of the car, you'll sit at a table on your laptop. You could sit in a circle in your car. I mean, these are crazy things. To me, it's exciting, and it's moving rather quickly, and so I like the idea of being on my toes looking at what the trends are and trying to understand how to get out ahead of those or be part of the many opportunities that these technology advances present. 

Now, it's not just technology advances, but there are a lot of other changes that are going on. So I think we got to get used to that fact. And for that reason, you know, my advice is to follow these trends, and to scan the environment and business periodicals to really know what's going on. So that you know if your organization or career stands to benefit or lose as a result of the evolution of these trends. 

That's good advice. As you know, my passion is career services, and I notice that you've done some research on this as well. I read that you've researched the transformation of career services in this new era of client management development, and I'm curious what you meant by that. And what can we expect, perhaps, as future job seekers who are experiencing this upside down world? 

Well, I think, so drawing from my experience in both consulting and entrepreneurship, the key to anyone's future, a business or individual, is what the market asks for. Or what customers want. But even more so, there's the concept that there are things that we can invent that people don't know that they want or need that we're capable of articulating, or developing, or creating. So in the end, it's what will people embrace? That is the key to our future. 

And that's why I bring into the classroom a focus on relationships. It's the relationship between the business and the customer, and it's the relationship between the organization and the vendor, and it's those relationships and knowing what they entail, or understanding how they work and how they can be enhanced, that I think is the key to the success of many businesses. Now, consulting firms know this. 

Consulting firms know that their relationships with clients are critical to their future. So they have various approaches and methods and technologies to enable those relationships and keep them dynamic. And in the process of delivering products and services, trust is built. And as trust is built, then the relationship grows stronger, and then those relationships become mutually beneficial. 

Entrepreneurs know that they are going nowhere unless somebody buys their products. So the huge trend in entrepreneurship is to think early about what customer-- and to interact quickly with customers on the development of a new product or service. It's not to build the solution, then try to sell it, and then get the feedback. It's like, build a very rapid prototype, then solicit feedback, then reinvent the prototype, then solicit feedback again from customers and so on. So it's a very iterative and very quick in terms of how we deal with customers and others. 

As a fellow educator and career coach I love that you've chosen problem-based learning as the methodology to deliver your course content. How's that been going for you? 

Fantastic. Because I call it-- what many people call problem-based learning, I call consulting. 


I call it real world, problem-based learning. And let me tell you how that works for me. What I love more than anything else is to bring into education, and specifically into the classroom, real problems that real people face. For example, in my MBA class. In my MBA consulting class, we tackled, in seven weeks, a significant issue. 

And it was how to prevent illegal drugs from entering the federal prison system. All right. So we engaged-- our client was the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C. And it was interesting as they laid out the problem. The challenge is extremely complicated in the sense that anything, like, paper-based coming into the prison can be laden with illegal chemicals that can then be sold, cut up into little pieces, and sold. 

So in other words, an 8 and 1/2 by 11 piece of copy paper, one sheet of paper, can be transformed into a $4,000 product in a prison system if you soak it in synthetic drugs. And so what happens is, in fact a piece of paper can carry drugs into the prison system, that means a legal document, a love letter, a catalog, any number of items, a newspaper, can now subject to entering the prison system illegally and creating life threatening circumstances as inmates ingest these synthetic chemicals, right? 

So for seven weeks my MBA students worked on how to prevent that, what technologies exist, they benchmarked various solutions, they tried to come up with a business process. They looked at what that might mean for the unions and the prison guards who would be affected by this, because they don't want to have to be the only ones who open every piece of mail, and then they get it on their hands, and it gets in their eyes, and so forth. 

So you see how bringing a real problem into the classroom, it benefits the students because they're doing something real. It benefits some external organization who has a real problem. They get free labor and advice, and my students get an outstanding education in how to address problems. So I really like bringing these problems into the classroom. 

We have-- I've done some other projects. Years ago, Disney came to me and they said, this is actually a kind of a top secret project, years ago, 10 years ago. But like, how could we leverage mobile apps to give people a better experience in our theme parks like at Disney World? And so my students thought of all these ideas and prototyped different services that might be provided in a mobile app to support that corporation. 

So you see that it's a little bit beyond textbooks, too. And when you're dealing with real problems then you're dealing with real people. And then you're dealing with the emotions of those real problems in those real people, and then it's extremely satisfying when you, as an undergraduate student, can give a company something of value. 

In fact, I remember one of my undergraduate student consulting teams made some recommendations to a midsize consulting firm down by Washington, D.C. And our consulting, their consulting final report to the client, triggered a corporate restructuring. Undergraduate students helped facilitate or trigger a corporate restructuring, just based on their recommendations looking at the re-engineering of strategic account management in that company. 

So I love that idea. I love the idea also, from an entrepreneurial perspective, of-- from an entrepreneur's perspective, it's also real. Because you bring students into a classroom and you say, this is an entrepreneurship class, and your final project for the semester is to come up with a business idea for a startup company. 

So you have to go out and find a pain point, come up with a new product, write a business plan, interview people as if they were potential customers. So that is real, too, and some of those students go on to actually start companies. So that's real. So I do, I love problem-based learning in the sense that it brings the real world into education and then they become similar. 

Have you been able to work these real problems into the new graduate certificate in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship? I'm sure people would love to hear more about that certificate option. 

Yes, we have a certificate in corporate innovation entrepreneurship. It's four classes. It's 12 credits. It's introduction to corporate innovation entrepreneurship, emerging trends, technology, and corporate innovation. A third class, called corporate innovation strategies and entrepreneurial methods, and a fourth called business modeling, a new venture creation. 

It's a really wonderful blend of corporate innovation and entrepreneurship. That is something-- the certificate program is designed for working professionals. So we have people in companies who are simply trying to become more innovative or they're assuming management roles that involve innovation. 

Another category of people we have coming into these online courses, our certificate program, would be those who are in large companies who want, at some point, to launch a new company. They've had a lot of experience, they have some ideas of their own, and they're ready to start something. Or a third category, simply people who want to supplement what they're doing in their day job with something they do at night that is of their own creation. 

And do you have any examples in your curriculum that speak to that real value of experiencing an issue in the workplace that's happening today, that you're wrestling with in the virtual classroom? 

Well, what-- since they're online courses, the students are all caught-- they're all distributed across around the country and elsewhere. And they're all working for organizations that have challenges. And the assignments and the projects for these online classes ask the students to look carefully at their own organizations. In other words, they're allowed to bring into the class their own challenges. And on discussion boards and in our virtual sessions, they can discuss those challenges and then we can all advise each other. 

So there's-- one of the beauties of online education is I can bring together people from all over the country into a virtual classroom. And we only do virtual classes once a week for an hour, because everybody's busy. But in coming together then the students can help each other. In fact, I can even sit back as a professor and let somebody from Boeing advise somebody at Johnson and Johnson on how they do innovation in their companies. And so that sort of interaction allows people bringing their issues into the classroom and having them gaining feedback. 

I know many of our listeners would probably love to continue their education with an MBA or pick up your graduate certification in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship, but they have concerns about not having enough time or money. What advice would you give potential graduate students who are weighing these considerations? 

Great question. Most companies have tuition reimbursement programs. I'd say a large majority of our students have their online education financed by their company to some extent. The other thing to consider from a time perspective is that these online programs are sort of take them at your own pace course. I mean, you have to complete the course in the semester but you can distribute those online courses over multiple semesters. 

So most students take one or two online courses per semester, because they're working. And we understand that. Our professors are sensitive to the work-related issues that people find themselves in. So, while we do have virtual sessions, we record those. You're not in all cases required to be at every virtual session. We record them so people can follow up later because of summer on travel, or they have other work responsibilities. 

My advice would be to speak with one of our academic advisors. You could even go so far as to request a copy of the course outlines for these online courses. So in that sense, the design of the courses and of the program in general is very flexible. So we have a certificate program, which is four courses. You can extend that to 33 credits and earn a Master's degree if you'd like. So the certificate can lead to even another terminal degree if that's what your interests are. 

Thanks, Shawn. I've been in my current position as a Smeal alumni career coach since last April, and I've already noticed many clients expressing interest in starting their own consulting business. What advice would you give our alumni graduates who are wanting to branch out on their own into consulting? Sometimes without a lot of forethought, to be honest. 

Right, no, this is a great question and so many people have the capacity of the skill set to actually do consulting, they just don't think of it and they may not have the confidence to do so. So my first piece of advice is not something that-- very few are going to be able to implement. It's like, get a job in a large consulting firm to see how they do it. These large consulting firms, or find a friend who's worked one, they've kind of have figured this all out. They figure out the tools, the templates, the business processes for managing a consulting business. 

And that's kind of where I come from, is my IBM experience. I caught a glimpse into how the whole thing works, how they're paid, your billing rate, how you compose teams, how you write proposals, how you deliver results, how you administer customer satisfaction surveys. So you get the big picture. We're not all so fortunate, but anything you can gain from those who have experience in a large firm would be beneficial. 

The other thing I would advise, this is going to sound strange, is to put on your entrepreneurship hat and go look up online what's called the Business Model Canvas. The Business Model Canvas is how entrepreneurs plan a startup. So if you're going to become a consultant you go to the Business Model Canvas. It's simply a template which helps you identify the scope and nature of your business if you're going to be a consultant. So it would help you articulate what the solution is that you're offering, what's your value proposition. 

What customer segment are you going to be targeting? What channel are you going to follow to address these customers? What is the nature of your brand, and how does that fit, and who is your competition? So it forces you into that sort of entrepreneurial thinking. That would be a piece of advice if you want to start your own consulting business. 

Another one would be, find a client and exceed their expectations in what you deliver. So right off the bat, you've got to have a track record. And one of the interesting aspects of large firms is they'll do Pro Bono work, or they'll do it at a highly discounted rate, just to get their foot in the door. So go in, find-- could even be a friend, somebody who has a business. Do something for them, exceed their expectations, then you can turn around and say, look I've done-- I've been in these two little companies. 

I've shown results, I now have references, and then off you go. So you do need to think about that, then build a website that clearly explains what you have to offer. So you can look a lot more robust and professional than maybe what you actually are on your own website. You know, it's just how marketing is. 

I like how you bring entrepreneurial thinking into the career transition process, which is so important. What are some new projects or research that has you most excited these days? 

What I'm really excited about is that we are-- so we have our own venture capital fund at the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We administer that through our MBA students. We have an MBA class called entrepreneurial finance and our students actually are allowed to invest between $100,000 and $150,000 a year in startup companies. So that's kind of a great experience because those investments are real. And then we get-- we obtain returns on those investments which we can then reinvest. And the students are part of that education process. 

So we're now looking at setting up similar venture capital funds for undergraduates. The undergraduates don't have their own venture capital fund. We like them to-- we have groups of students who have come to us and said, hey, we would like to be part of making decisions about investments, and evaluating startup companies, and looking at their products and their financials, and examining the nature of the management teams and the founders to see if we believe in them. 

And so we're going to do that. We're also looking at setting up venture capital funds focused on specific areas of interest in partnership with the Center for Sustainability and Eric Foley. Perhaps we'll have one for just investing in companies that support the environment and sustainability, or we've had someone express interest in maybe setting one up for companies that support disabled people. So there's a lot we could do in the portfolio of investment, and that's pretty exciting to me. 

And then another thing that's-- it's more just outright fun, would be study abroad programs focused on entrepreneurship. We've got a couple of those in the planning stage. We've already helped fund a few. Anne Hoag in the College of Communication takes a group to Israel, which we supported and I love that. You know, travel is one of the best teachers. So we can get our students going to India, to Asia, to look at how entrepreneurs thrive in other cultures. I think that there's immense learning that can occur by seeing those unique contexts and how business works. 

You've touched on this a little bit by mentioning sustainability but what are some of the hottest trends in entrepreneurial thinking right now? 

Well, the hot trends are-- well of course sustainability is-- anything to do with sustainability, or going green, or saving the environment, or reversing climate change, whatever the case may be. There is passion mixed with money. Passion and money and a sense of threat. 


But that helps, right? 

It all comes together into this little perfect storm of, we all-- we want to do something to change the world. So that's something to keep your eye on. 

The other area that is kind of jolting and fascinating to me is, they're called innovation platforms. So these are areas of innovation where what's being offered isn't necessarily new, but it's based on a technology platform. Like Uber, right, we've always had taxis and taxi services. But Uber came along and they just created a technology platform so anybody with a car can now become a taxi. 

And you're seeing more of that. Airbnb is another example, there was always rental units and homes to rent, but when somebody created a platform for transactions to occur, that becomes a big deal. So more of those transaction-based innovation platforms are going to show up, which means things that are taken for granted might become-- there might be new economies and ecosystems built around them. 

Blockchain is another one to keep an eye on. It's far beyond my expertise. But it seems to be reaching into every aspect of business, but we're just on the cusp of it. 

Thank you. Well, Shawn, I really appreciate you sharing your insights with us today. Smeal Alumni Career Services produces these online resources in collaboration with our office of professional graduate programs and the Penn State online MBA program. Please reference our lifelong learning webinar with Dr. Brian Cameron, Associate Dean for professional graduate programs, in the Smeal College of Business. 

And Stacey Dorang Peeler, managing director of the Penn State online MBA program, titled "Online Graduate Business Programs, Advancing Your Career Through Lifelong Learning". All webinar recordings, along with more information about Smeal Alumni Career Services programs, can be found on our website at smeal.psu.edu/alumni/alumni-career-services.