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The extraordinary benefits of an entrepreneurial mindset

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6 May 2021

Darsel Keane is Director of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. As part of the University of Auckland’s Raising the Bar festival, Darsel gave a public talk on The Extraordinary Benefits of an Entrepreneurial Mindset. Here are the abridged notes from that talk:

Today, “uncertainty is the only certainty”[i]. Whatever we decide to call it, we know the world is changing at pace. This change is due to the tremendous forces that are reshaping society and the world of work – disruptive innovations, radical thinking, new business models and resource scarcity. Every sector is affected[ii].

We are facing the most significant disruption in the world of work since the industrial revolution, with the OECD estimating that 65% of children today will do jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. We will have “portfolio careers, moving away from the traditional job for life, towards a career journey that could encompass up to 17 job changes across 5 different careers”[iii][iv]. We know that the world will look different post-Covid (if there is a post-Covid) and that climate change is a very real, highly-complex and dangerous issue facing humanity.

So how do we prepare for this future and create a world that we are proud of?

An entrepreneurial brain will help you to not just survive but thrive – even if you aren’t an entrepreneur.

An entrepreneurial mindset at work

One of our alumni, Jean, is about 25. She studied Law and Commerce and went on to work for one of the Big Firms. During her time there she was tasked with the “five day job of checking documents for a hearing – a repetitive, manual and time-intensive activity, long the bane of junior lawyers”[v]. Instead, she asked a developer friend if they could write code to complete the repetitive part of the task. This turned a five-day task into a two-day task that was completed more accurately.

She was nervous about sharing her hack with management. In an industry based on billable hours, doing something faster is not always a good thing. However, she got lucky – no doubt due to her ability to pitch and present the benefits of this approach to allowing the team more time to spend creating more value for the client.

The success of this, with the support of management, led her to pitch for a new litigation technology working group. When this firm decided to launch a legal tech venture, Jean was seconded into it and played a key role in that venture, which has now exited. She went on to help form a legal industry tech group.

A person like Jean is not what you would think of when picturing a typical entrepreneur. Her career goal had been to get into a top tier law firm and spend the next 10+ years working her way to Partner. But her knowledge of technology and her willingness to take a risk led to her having a very entrepreneurial career. Not once has she been an ‘entrepreneur’, but she has an entrepreneurial mindset.

What is an entrepreneurial mindset?

Around the world, governments, industry groups, businesses, researchers and many others are grappling with what this means. What capabilities and competencies are needed to not only face these issues but to thrive and identify opportunity in the chaos?

With the world of work no longer about one career in one lifetime, increasingly many of us will spend periods of time in and out of the workforce – “retraining, learning new skills and relaunching ourselves into new fields of paid and unpaid work”[vi]. This is a breakdown of the “three traditional stages of life – education, work and retirement”[vii].

If the skills we have “conventionally valued, acquisition of technical knowledge and the ability to process routine information, are increasingly being replaced by technology”[viii], then what is now valued, needed and important?

What is clear, quoting Einstein – “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

Scholars, as we like to do, debate what an entrepreneurial mindset is and what specific competencies construct it. The definition that I often refer to and I believe best captures entrepreneurial mindset is that it reflects deep cognition, in particular beliefs and assumptions[ix]. It is a unique combination of elements such as:

  •     Proactiveness
  •     Innovativeness
  •     Resilience
  •     Persistence
  •     Self-efficacy
  •     Tolerance for ambiguity
  •     Risk

Although there is much debate on what the core elements of this mindset is. This is one of the focuses of my research.

Measuring an entrepreneurial mindset

Part of the research I am doing is to create a measure for entrepreneurial mindset. If we believe that this mindset is important and beneficial then we need to have a way to identify it and assess the impact of programmes and other initiatives that claim to develop it. Until a way is developed to measure the development and existence of an entrepreneurial mindset, we can refer to a multitude of anecdotal evidence about its tangible impact.

For more than 10 years I have been working in the area of entrepreneurship education. In my work at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship we think about these issues and how we can play a role in better preparing graduates for the future. What we have learnt is that to face and embrace this changing and uncertain world a bundle of competencies are needed. Research has found that those who thrive in work demonstrate:

  •     Well-developed problem-solving capability
  •     Adaptability
  •     Agility
  •     Risk-taking
  •     The ability to synthesise and make decisions with incomplete and uncertain information
  •     The ability to work with data and the latest technology and systems

They also require good communication skills, collaboration, creativity and innovation, the ability to build relationships quickly, leadership competence, empathy and resilience.

There are a number of things you will notice about this comprehensive list of skills. They are not deep technical skills, they are unlikely to be replaced by technology, they will be vital in an uncertain world and they are transportable – not defined by a particular role nor profession[x]. You will also notice that most of these are normally labelled soft skills. As they say, the soft skills are the hard skills.

How we educate for it

Our team at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship creates and delivers experiential learning initiatives to develop and grow entrepreneurial mindset and capabilities. Our programmes range from technology empowerment and enablement in our state of the art makerspace, to idea bootcamps, corporate innovation challenges, a start-up coworking space, business plan challenges and an incubator.

In all of our programmes we are challenging and supporting people, encouraging them to try new things and take risks. We teach them how to create ideas, validate them, build business models, develop Go to Market plans, design prototypes and minimum viable products, seek and receive feedback from potential customers and stakeholders, pitch to investors, and build and lead teams. We build professional networks and the opportunity to learn from people who have been there and done it through mentoring and inspirational talks from active practitioners. We also build global awareness and capacity to understand deep and complex problems by using the UNSDGs as the problem-solving space for all of our programmes.

We do this because it is important.

Because if our graduates are not going to have one job, they need to find a way to build their resilience and capacity to deal with ambiguity and change, find opportunity and create solutions. They need to be aware of the latest technology so that, like Jean, they can help contribute to changing industries.

The world is changing and the education system needs to change with it. If we aspire to build a responsive community that overcomes global challenges while building a thriving and ethical economy, we also need to grow a generation of highly educated citizens with an entrepreneurial mindset and practical experience that can be used as a lever to activate their knowledge. 

Today the only certainty is uncertainty, but opportunity waits for those who are adaptable and agile…… those that have an entrepreneurial mindset.

Listen to Darsel’s talk on Soundcloud


[i] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, “Future of Talent,” Future Inc (Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, 2017).
[ii] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.
[iii] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, 22.
[iv] Foundation for Young Australians, “The New Work Order,” August 2015.
[v] “Forging the Future of Law: McCarthyFinch LegalTech Counsel Jean Yang Aims to Improve How the Law Is Accessed and Practised with AI,” The College of Law (blog), 2018, https://www.collaw.edu.au/news/2018/02/20/forging-the-future-of-law-mccarthyfinch-legaltech-counsel-jean-yang-aims-to-improve.
[vi] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, “Future of Talent,” 2.
[vii] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, 2.
[viii] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, 2.
[ix] Norris F. Krueger, “Thematic Paper on Entrepreneurship Education into Practice. Part 1: The Entrepreneurial Mindset,” Entrepreneurship360 Initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (LEED Programme) and the European Commission (DG Education and Culture). (OECD, 2015), http://www.oecd.org/cfe/leed/Entrepreneurial-Education-Practice-pt1.pdf.
[x] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, “Future of Talent.”

Velocity Team 2020
Velocity Team 2020

social media

6 May 2021

Darsel Keane is Director of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. As part of the University of Auckland’s Raising the Bar festival, Darsel gave a public talk on The Extraordinary Benefits of an Entrepreneurial Mindset. Here are the abridged notes from that talk:

Today, “uncertainty is the only certainty”[i]. Whatever we decide to call it, we know the world is changing at pace. This change is due to the tremendous forces that are reshaping society and the world of work – disruptive innovations, radical thinking, new business models and resource scarcity. Every sector is affected[ii].

We are facing the most significant disruption in the world of work since the industrial revolution, with the OECD estimating that 65% of children today will do jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. We will have “portfolio careers, moving away from the traditional job for life, towards a career journey that could encompass up to 17 job changes across 5 different careers”[iii][iv]. We know that the world will look different post-Covid (if there is a post-Covid) and that climate change is a very real, highly-complex and dangerous issue facing humanity.

So how do we prepare for this future and create a world that we are proud of?

An entrepreneurial brain will help you to not just survive but thrive – even if you aren’t an entrepreneur.

An entrepreneurial mindset at work

One of our alumni, Jean, is about 25. She studied Law and Commerce and went on to work for one of the Big Firms. During her time there she was tasked with the “five day job of checking documents for a hearing – a repetitive, manual and time-intensive activity, long the bane of junior lawyers”[v]. Instead, she asked a developer friend if they could write code to complete the repetitive part of the task. This turned a five-day task into a two-day task that was completed more accurately.

She was nervous about sharing her hack with management. In an industry based on billable hours, doing something faster is not always a good thing. However, she got lucky – no doubt due to her ability to pitch and present the benefits of this approach to allowing the team more time to spend creating more value for the client.

The success of this, with the support of management, led her to pitch for a new litigation technology working group. When this firm decided to launch a legal tech venture, Jean was seconded into it and played a key role in that venture, which has now exited. She went on to help form a legal industry tech group.

A person like Jean is not what you would think of when picturing a typical entrepreneur. Her career goal had been to get into a top tier law firm and spend the next 10+ years working her way to Partner. But her knowledge of technology and her willingness to take a risk led to her having a very entrepreneurial career. Not once has she been an ‘entrepreneur’, but she has an entrepreneurial mindset.

What is an entrepreneurial mindset?

Around the world, governments, industry groups, businesses, researchers and many others are grappling with what this means. What capabilities and competencies are needed to not only face these issues but to thrive and identify opportunity in the chaos?

With the world of work no longer about one career in one lifetime, increasingly many of us will spend periods of time in and out of the workforce – “retraining, learning new skills and relaunching ourselves into new fields of paid and unpaid work”[vi]. This is a breakdown of the “three traditional stages of life – education, work and retirement”[vii].

If the skills we have “conventionally valued, acquisition of technical knowledge and the ability to process routine information, are increasingly being replaced by technology”[viii], then what is now valued, needed and important?

What is clear, quoting Einstein – “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

Scholars, as we like to do, debate what an entrepreneurial mindset is and what specific competencies construct it. The definition that I often refer to and I believe best captures entrepreneurial mindset is that it reflects deep cognition, in particular beliefs and assumptions[ix]. It is a unique combination of elements such as:

  •     Proactiveness
  •     Innovativeness
  •     Resilience
  •     Persistence
  •     Self-efficacy
  •     Tolerance for ambiguity
  •     Risk

Although there is much debate on what the core elements of this mindset is. This is one of the focuses of my research.

Measuring an entrepreneurial mindset

Part of the research I am doing is to create a measure for entrepreneurial mindset. If we believe that this mindset is important and beneficial then we need to have a way to identify it and assess the impact of programmes and other initiatives that claim to develop it. Until a way is developed to measure the development and existence of an entrepreneurial mindset, we can refer to a multitude of anecdotal evidence about its tangible impact.

For more than 10 years I have been working in the area of entrepreneurship education. In my work at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship we think about these issues and how we can play a role in better preparing graduates for the future. What we have learnt is that to face and embrace this changing and uncertain world a bundle of competencies are needed. Research has found that those who thrive in work demonstrate:

  •     Well-developed problem-solving capability
  •     Adaptability
  •     Agility
  •     Risk-taking
  •     The ability to synthesise and make decisions with incomplete and uncertain information
  •     The ability to work with data and the latest technology and systems

They also require good communication skills, collaboration, creativity and innovation, the ability to build relationships quickly, leadership competence, empathy and resilience.

There are a number of things you will notice about this comprehensive list of skills. They are not deep technical skills, they are unlikely to be replaced by technology, they will be vital in an uncertain world and they are transportable – not defined by a particular role nor profession[x]. You will also notice that most of these are normally labelled soft skills. As they say, the soft skills are the hard skills.

How we educate for it

Our team at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship creates and delivers experiential learning initiatives to develop and grow entrepreneurial mindset and capabilities. Our programmes range from technology empowerment and enablement in our state of the art makerspace, to idea bootcamps, corporate innovation challenges, a start-up coworking space, business plan challenges and an incubator.

In all of our programmes we are challenging and supporting people, encouraging them to try new things and take risks. We teach them how to create ideas, validate them, build business models, develop Go to Market plans, design prototypes and minimum viable products, seek and receive feedback from potential customers and stakeholders, pitch to investors, and build and lead teams. We build professional networks and the opportunity to learn from people who have been there and done it through mentoring and inspirational talks from active practitioners. We also build global awareness and capacity to understand deep and complex problems by using the UNSDGs as the problem-solving space for all of our programmes.

We do this because it is important.

Because if our graduates are not going to have one job, they need to find a way to build their resilience and capacity to deal with ambiguity and change, find opportunity and create solutions. They need to be aware of the latest technology so that, like Jean, they can help contribute to changing industries.

The world is changing and the education system needs to change with it. If we aspire to build a responsive community that overcomes global challenges while building a thriving and ethical economy, we also need to grow a generation of highly educated citizens with an entrepreneurial mindset and practical experience that can be used as a lever to activate their knowledge. 

Today the only certainty is uncertainty, but opportunity waits for those who are adaptable and agile…… those that have an entrepreneurial mindset.

Listen to Darsel’s talk on Soundcloud


[i] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, “Future of Talent,” Future Inc (Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, 2017).
[ii] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.
[iii] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, 22.
[iv] Foundation for Young Australians, “The New Work Order,” August 2015.
[v] “Forging the Future of Law: McCarthyFinch LegalTech Counsel Jean Yang Aims to Improve How the Law Is Accessed and Practised with AI,” The College of Law (blog), 2018, https://www.collaw.edu.au/news/2018/02/20/forging-the-future-of-law-mccarthyfinch-legaltech-counsel-jean-yang-aims-to-improve.
[vi] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, “Future of Talent,” 2.
[vii] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, 2.
[viii] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, 2.
[ix] Norris F. Krueger, “Thematic Paper on Entrepreneurship Education into Practice. Part 1: The Entrepreneurial Mindset,” Entrepreneurship360 Initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (LEED Programme) and the European Commission (DG Education and Culture). (OECD, 2015), http://www.oecd.org/cfe/leed/Entrepreneurial-Education-Practice-pt1.pdf.
[x] Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, “Future of Talent.”


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