This course asserts, and then demonstrates through a combination of dialogue, activities, and assignments that one of the core “meta-skills” you have refined in the School of Engineering—finding and solving problems—represents a critical component of the opaque “entrepreneurial capability” required for career success. The goal of this course is to show, using the entrepreneurial context as an experimental laboratory, that you can apply the skills you have right now to add value across every area of any company. This includes areas often considered to be “off limits” to engineers, such as organizational design and human resources, market research and analysis, sales and business development, and operations. And we will see that these skills can be applied at any size or stage of a company—your own startup, a small and growing firm, or an established enterprise. Application is up to you.
This instructor’s view is that the mechanical aspects of forming a business—what counts as entrepreneurship education at most schools—is, frankly, trivial and can be figured out by reading Reddit and browsing YouTube. And in almost all cases those sources will be more current and correct than anything that this instructor, or any instructor, can offer. That’s not to say that we won’t explore practical issues such as fundraising, the generation of artifacts such as marketing plans or financing decks, how to manage growth, or the minutia of running experiments to find product-market fit. However, discussions will usually start with “this iz complicated” and end with “it depends”. We will sketch out frameworks and boundary conditions, but rarely a solution. That is because for things that are novel, there are patterns to draw from but no recipe to follow because novelty. In this course, having the “right answer” is life’s consolation prize.
Creating value requires learning to be comfortable acting under uncertainty—before the right answer is known, often resolving uncertainty through the very actions you take. Let me share a little secret with you: People are not going to pay you very much to follow directions and do neat little engineering tricks a little faster and better than the other pieces of electrified meat you will eat overpriced panini with during your lunch break. In the short term, you will compete against other people all over the world who take orders with a smile, do engineering tricks better and faster than you, work harder for less pay, and don’t have fancy feelings about sweet benefits packages. This is called globalization, and it is for reals. In the medium term, all the jobs for pieces of pleasant, dutiful electrified meat will be handled by algorithms. This is called automation, and this is your fate. If you want to have a career, you must learn to create new value. If you create value, you have choices. If you can’t, you will work for someone who can—until they can replace you with an algorithm. Did I make you have sad feels? Sorry not sorry.
You already have the base toolkit you need to be a value-creator, and an extensive background with creative problem solving in some specific domains. What we want to do in this class is amplify and generalize this skillset. Most areas in business will yield to an engineering mindset. Demonstrating how true this is—and how motivating, useful, and valuable knowing that truth can be—is the point of this course.