Executing Entrepreneurial Mindset
By Alyssa Schoeneman, AEL Intern
Before becoming an Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership Faculty Fellow in 2006, Professor Michael Twidale was entirely unfamiliar with entrepreneurship. As a term, that is.
Conceptually, however, entrepreneurship played a huge part in his life; Twidale’s academic work and research in the field of Information Technology (IT) Design had always been self-initiated, innovative and creative.
A professor of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Twidale received his PhD from Lancaster University, UK in 1990 and continued his post-doctorate work there with the UK Science and Engineering Research Council Fellowship. After a brief appointment as a Lancaster faculty member Twidale came to the University of Illinois in 1997.
Since then, he has taught a wide range of courses, from Museum Informatics to his most recent Academy-supported course, Entrepreneurial IT Design. Each of Twidale’s courses channels his various research interests into a more streamlined curriculum; his interests include computer supported cooperative working and learning, human-computer interaction, information visualization and museum informatics, among others.
Twidale hoped to convey the core principles of design thinking through his course in Entrepreneurial IT Design.
“My main goal was to help students learn to think about the design process and learn to rethink their ideas about executing design,” he said. “I wanted them to realize that it’s not about sitting down and waiting for a flash of inspiration. Rather, it is about trying out a variety of solutions and constantly adapting and revising them."
Twidale’s course teaches students to search for, recognize and assess needs in the general public, and then to problem-solve with a set of limited resources. Students from different disciplines work together in small groups, feeding off of each other’s strengths and supplementing individuals’ weaknesses.
“One of the things I try to teach is how important it is to learn the skills of how to work in a multidisciplinary design field,” Twidale said. “The point of the class is to learn how to work together as a team and to bring insights from different majors to create a greater final product.”
Twidale also aims to build problem-solving mindsets in his students; he wants them to be able to assess what people’s user experiences are like and at how they as designers can improve those experiences.
“I think [the course] has been enabling students to explore the design process and realize that they can make a difference,” Twidale said. “Particularly with graduate students in the Department of Library and Information Sciences…they are great at analyzing problems but they are less inclined to think that they can come up with practical solutions and then build prototypes to convey their ideas.”
And their skills don’t exist solely in the classroom; Twidale’s students are applying design thinking concepts to their jobs in unexpected ways.
“Students are seeing opportunities to do this kind of analysis and improvement in places where they might not necessarily expect to see them,” Twidale said. “One of my students is now working for a gaming company…he was already familiar with the type of design analysis that his company is just now introducing [because of my class].”
Twidale considers teaching his course to be the most entrepreneurial thing he has ever done and compares his academic research to running an independent business.
“I think as an academic I often have to act like a businessperson,” he said. “My job is to sell my ideas in the larger worldwide marketplace of ideas.”
Twidale explained that he has a lot of autonomy in deciding what topics he wants to research, but that he also has the associated responsibility.
“I have no one to blame for a bad idea because all of the ideas are my own,” he joked.
Twidale’s current projects include studies of the informal social learning of technology, technological appropriation, collaborative approaches to managing data quality and the use of software mash-ups to create lightweight applications, to name a few. He has high expectations for the future of entrepreneurship and innovative thinking in the field of IT design.
“I think the whole area of IT design is exploding in every direction,” Twidale said. “More and more applications are becoming available through Web 2.0 and cloud computing; people can now combine pre-existing applications to make new ones, which creates whole new sets of possibilities. Experienced programmers can be creative much more efficiently because they don’t have to write everything from scratch, and less experienced programmers are less limited by their lack of skills.”
Twidale said that his best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, young and old, novice and professional, is to consider the world with an analyzing, critiquing and improving mindset. Being able to recognize and satisfy needs in a society, or even to see one’s personal research through a different lens, can greatly enhance an individual’s creativity, innovation and hunger for his or her field.
And if all else fails, do as Twidale did when he applied for his Faculty Fellowship; simply be adventurous and see what comes out of it.
Entrepreneurial course taught by Professor Twidale:
LIS490, Entrepreneurial IT Design
This course looks at the challenges in developing novel useful application ideas involving computational technologies: finding a need and an opportunity, exploring the design space and creating realizations and demos to assess, refine and communicate/sell the idea of the application to others. This could be in a commercial context, or be more a matter of social entrepreneurship - but still involves identifying and addressing an unmet need, or creating a better way of addressing existing needs. In both the commercial and not-for-profit contexts the same problems recur: deciding what you should build and sharing the vision with various stakeholders so that you can put together the resources to realize your vision.
For various reasons this can be especially problematic with computational technologies - even if you are clear in your mind what your hypothetical application will do, others may not be able to imagine what it will do or why that would be good until they can see it in the flesh - so how do you get the buy-in to even start? Worse, you might have a clear vision, but that vision may be wrong or incomplete: how can we speed up the learning that comes from iterative design and testing, given that many high risk development strategies typically only get one chance to make their pitch and succeed?
The course will introduce students to a range of rapid prototyping techniques and methods to analyze needs, opportunities and design spaces. Students will work in teams to develop ideas for novel computational devices or applications to meet identified needs. These ideas will be explored and demonstrated using a various prototypes, scenarios and other methods. Students will learn the interlinked entrepreneurial skills of identifying an unmet need, exploiting technological opportunities, exploring a design space to refine an idea, and communicating their vision through demonstrations with prototypes and proofs of concept. This enables developers to show how their envisaged working interactive technology will be used productively in a particular real-life context. Communicating the vision of computational devices is a challenge because dynamic use in context is hard for people other than the device's developers to imagine. The ability to produce convincing, clear, powerful demonstrations even at the early stages of a project is a highly valuable entrepreneurial skill.
Visit Course Catalog website for course availability
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