I recently came back from teaching a 5 day course at the Technical University of Denmark. Master students from different departments came to learn how to identify, evaluate and strategize market opportunities for innovative technologies. During the course, they learned how to apply our new business tool, the Market Opportunity Navigator, and implemented it on university-related inventions.
I have been teaching this course for quite a while now, and in many institutes around the world. Yet, there were three sentences that I heard from my students this time, that really got me thinking about the quality of the course and made me realise we are probably doing something well.
I want to share them with you, as I believe they can provide some important insights on how to design a meaningful learning experience and increase the engagement of our students.
“This was much harder than I expected”
During the course, postgraduates work on identifying and evaluating different market opportunities for a given invention, and learn how to set a promising strategy in an uncertain environment. When they first hear about the idea from the inventor, it seems like an easy task for them: they can imagine the target customers and envision the business potential. Yet, during the course they understand the challenges and all the considerations that come into play when making such a profound strategic choice. Their ability to go deep on the evaluation, and to reflect that this was actually much more complicated than they thought it would be, showed me that the process was right. The message here is clear: setting a good strategy is a complicated task. Different opportunities have different upsides and downsides, and there is hardly ever a ‘perfect’ option. This is exactly what I want my students to understand, and this is exactly why they need a good set of tools to help them make difficult decisions in a solid manner.
“I don’t think the inventor will like our recommendations”
Getting real engagement from the students in an academic course is never easy. One approach that usually helps is working on live cases, preferably by university inventors. In fact, when the students meet the inventor in person, and actually sit and discuss the business idea together, their engagement raises tremendously. They no longer work for the sake of an ‘academic project’, but to help a founder deal with his real dilemmas. Interestingly, they start talking about the project as if it was their ‘baby’: we will do that… we will focus on this… etc. This empathy and involvement are great. It helps them gain first-hand experience in setting up a new venture, and this is exactly what we want. However, because they are not actually working on their very own ideas, they still can find the required distance to put their biases and emotions aside, and analyze the opportunities in an objective manner. It was when I heard this sentence that I fully realized this great advantage. The students can find the justification to recommend a strategy that was completely different than the original intentions of the inventor. Well… now I am sure they actually know how to make an informed strategic choice. Great achievement!
“A good framework makes you think out of the box”
I believe frameworks are very important for a good learning experience. It is absolutely essential that we provide the students with very clear guidelines on what they need to do and how they should do it. The Market Opportunity Navigator and its worksheets present a very structured and visual framework, and therefore it does the job well for students: it bounds them and helps them to focus on their key assignments. In fact, as a good framework, it simply provides the questions that they need to ask themselves. Finding the answers is actually their task. But structured processes have some limitations. They might lock our minds and put our creativity aside. That is exactly why I liked this last sentence so much! We want the students to be open, think broadly and creatively about different business opportunities, and at the same time be structured and systematic in their analysis. We want to provide them good frameworks that actually help them think out of the box. Bingo!
Getting a good vibe from your students is the highest incentive a teacher can get. So I was heading back home after this great week in Denmark, and kept thinking about these unique sentences. They are not fawning in any way, but they really gave me the feeling that we are doing something right!
If you want to apply the Market Opportunity Navigator in your own teaching, head on to the new page for educators on our website. You can download a free Educators Guide and plenty of other supporting materials.