Entrepreneurs are always looking for a bright idea: for that eureka moment when the light bulb switches on.

But in the context of enterprise education, trying to come up with the ‘next big thing’ in a classroom, under time constraints, is nigh on impossible – an unrealistic exercise in an artificial arena.

Every business has to stem from something, but that something is unlikely to be the big idea. On the contrary, working backwards to find a solution to a problem, and turning that solution into a business, is more likely to lead to long-term success and a business people buy into.

Problem, not Product

Customers don’t buy products. They buy solutions to problems. Think about it: a hoover cleans a house in a fraction of the time it takes to sweep; a waterproof jacket saves you getting soaked through to the skin; a sun hat protects you from heatstroke. Teaching the entrepreneurs of tomorrow that they need to create a genius new product is therefore counter-intuitive: what our students need to understand is that entrepreneurship is about problems, not products.

When students think products first, they struggle. Ideas are implausible. The audience isn’t there. But if they start their entrepreneurial journey with a problem and focus on seeking a solution, they are more likely to have their eureka moment: to find a business they want to build.

Problem Solving in the Classroom

Creativity plays a critical role in entrepreneurship, but educators need to harness this correctly in the classroom. By replacing ideas generation exercises with problem solving, students will find themselves focusing on the strategies for long-term success, rather than fretting over finding ‘the big idea’.

According to Dr Sidney J. Parnes and Alex Osborn, there are six stages to the creative problem-solving process:

1. Objective Finding

What?  Identifying an issue that needs to be solved.

How?  A useful – and enjoyable – exercise to kickstart this is to ask your students to write down three customer segments they are members of (e.g. millennial, vegetarian, in full-time education) and three ‘passion’ segments of people they would like to work with (e.g. dancers, refugee children, the elderly). Of these six segments, they should then pick the three that excite them most. With their top three segments identified, each student should hypothesise three challenges each demographic might be facing now – for example, dancers might wonder how to ensure they get the right mix of nutrients in their meals, and those in full-time education might be working out how to make the most of the summer break on a budget. At the end of the exercise, each student will have nine potential problems to tackle – problems they are uniquely capable of working on because they either experience the issue themselves (as a member of the segment), or they feel passionate about helping the people who do.

2. Fact Finding

What?  Gathering information about the problem.

How?  Encourage students to question their classmates, and/or get out and about on campus. Ask them to gather data to answer a variety of questions: who and what is involved? Are there any presumptions or perceptions? What does/doesn’t happen? Crowdfund Campus’ Sandpit may also prove a useful way of testing what a target audience needs, wants and responds to.

3. Problem Finding

What?  Converting general issues into specific problems.

How?  Drill down into the detail by asking who, why, what, when, where, and how? Evaluate the data gathered and pose challenging questions that invite solutions. Open-ended questions generate lots of rich information and multiple possibilities, so encourage your class – perhaps in small groups – to grill each other in an open-ended format (i.e. there is no right or wrong answer!).

4. Ideas Finding

What ? Generating as many ideas as possible in light of the problems identified.

How?  Students need to shortlist their most promising ideas – with little to no restrictions. Collaborative classroom exercises such as brainwriting might be useful here in order to encourage creativity and originality.

5. Solution Finding

What?  Determining whether ideas can realistically be executed.

How?  Encourage students to think critically about their ideas and whether they can be successful. How will they work? Are the materials and technology available? Ultimately, they should end up with one solution that they think is promising and want to develop.

6. Acceptance Finding

What?  Planning how to take the solution forwards.

How?  From a starting point of nine problems, students will now have one idea that they think is actionable. Only now should they start developing several alternative action plans so that they keep working towards an accepted solution. Remember: this is still part of the problem-solving process, so hurdles are to be expected – but do not allow them to give into negativity. Problems are exposed to be solved, not to dishearten or heed progress.

Teaching a Lifelong Skill

When students are taught to think in terms of solutions, not ideas, they learn lifelong skills that will stand them in good stead – whether in the workplace or as an entrepreneur. Problem solving encourages students to be:

  • More impactful – thinking problem first, not product.
  • More creative – understanding how to use problems to generate ideas, rather than waiting for that light bulb moment.
  • More empathetic – knowing how to successfully connect and collaborate with other people.

We are proud to offer support and innovative solutions to educators who want to ‘think outside the box’. Our live crowdfunding marketplace and simulated Sandpit platform encourage creative problem solving, as well as a plethora of learning benefits. Contact us today to learn more and book a free demonstration.