April 20, 2020

Entrepreneurial thinking abounds during the COVID-19 pandemic

Tips on how to cultivate an entrepreneurial skill set and mindset
Illustration of hand holding lightbulb and other hand using laptop
Lightbulb and laptop iStock

“Entrepreneurial thinking is imagining as many future states as possible and then doing small experiments to see which one is most feasible and helps us to solve the problem at hand,” says Rosalynn Peschl, a Haskayne instructor who is currently teaching Entrepreneurial Thinking and a seminar in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

In many of our daily activities, we employ managerial thinking. We have a known goal and a known path to get there. Think of your typical work day. You have refined your morning routine, commute and perhaps even have a typical schedule for your day. With this established structure, most of our day we are managing many well-knowns, with very little innovation.

“What's valuable about entrepreneurial thinking, especially now, is that it is useful in times of great uncertainty,” says Peschl. “When trying to do something that hasn't been done before, we use entrepreneurial thinking to come up with a number of possible solutions.

The really interesting thing to me is that everyone is capable of entrepreneurial thinking. 

Entrepreneurial thinking is a skill set and a mindset, so it can be learned and practised. No one uses entrepreneurial thinking all the time, but people who are good at it tend to be really good at adapting and coming up with new opportunities when things don't go as planned.

“I think the very first thing that everyone needs to do right now is recognize that these are unprecedented times. I cannot think of a more global disruption to business and society that has ever taken place,” adds Peschl. “So be kind to yourself and start small.”

Entrepreneurial thinking as we #WFH (work from home)

Many people who can, are working from home and this presents its own set of challenges to be worked on. Child care and pet care may be a factor as well as finding space and all the supplies you need.

Think of one of these challenges — perhaps it is the structure of your workday. In this new environment the traditional nine to five might just not be a fit. What future scenario are you trying to get to? One where your child is not getting too much screen time and you are getting a bit of exercise? Then think of at least five options that might achieve your desired end. Try a few and see how they work.

In the end you may discover valuable lessons about your working style that you can carry back to the office. Access the UCalgary COVID-19 Community Support page for more tips to inspire your solutions for working from home.

Rosalynn Peschl

Rosalynn Peschl highlights entrepreneurial skills such as identifying needs and opportunities.

Students working from home may have many other sets of challenges including space to study, or economic challenges. It can be overwhelming to think of options. Even if you are not an entrepreneurial thinking pro yet, you can tap into your network to help you think of solutions. UCalgary also has campus resources available to you.

Business leaders and entrepreneurial thinking

Tough times tend to offer great examples of human and business resilience. In Alberta, we have seen many local businesses deal with challenges such as floods and fires. The current COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have ever seen before but we can still tap into some of the entrepreneurial ideas that arose during other trying circumstances.

Seeing where there is need

During the Calgary flood in 2013, many people were displaced from their homes. Within days, an interactive map was available showing locations that would host evacuees. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Leftovers (founded by UCalgary alumna Lourdes Juan, MEDes’09) has an app that helps to rescue food from closed businesses and deliver it to places of food insecurity in the city. What are other needs that are being revealed by our current crisis?

Seeing where there is opportunity

Where there is a problem to be solved, there is typically an opportunity to create a solution. Sometimes this is a market opportunity and sometimes it is a chance to provide service with your unique set of skills, product or services. In High River in 2013, as the floodwaters rose at an unprecedented pace, rescues happened with boats, dump trucks and even combines. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing local distillers using their stills to produce alcohol for much-needed hand sanitizer. Where is there an opportunity for your skills, product or service?

You do not need to be an entrepreneur to employ entrepreneurial thinking, and entrepreneurial thinking doesn't just take place in times of massive disaster.

“Entrepreneurial companies and people are always trying things they haven't done before,” says Peschl. “Any time a company offers a new product, a new delivery mechanism, tries to appeal to a new market, all of these are examples of using entrepreneurial thinking.”