10 Things I Learned from the Most Entrepreneurial Class at Babson (so far)

Babson College, where I currently attend as a Junior, is well-renowned as the “#1 school for entrepreneurship.” At least, that’s what U.S. News & World Report has rated it for the last… entirety of my lifetime. So when I refer to something as “the most entrepreneurial class,” it’s no joke.

I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of attending this class for just about 10 weeks now, and I’ve learned… just about 1,000 times more than any other class I’ve taken that claims to be about entrepreneurship. Why? Because they don’t teach it. They put you in situations that force you to learn it.

This is through the case methodology. Each week we get about 3-5 cases which our teams (self-drafted, with a CEO to lead) have to comb through, learn from, and give our thoughts on. Was this business successful? Would you have taken the risk? And then we get to see what the other 9 teams thought of. What’s really unique about this class is that it doesn’t give you many guidelines; you’re free to interpret as you will and use your creativity to come up with an out-of-the-box solution. Conformity is not rewarded. It’s not about getting the “right” answer.

With that said, I know that most people in the world won’t get the opportunity to take this unique course. So, today I’m going to share the top 10 things I’ve learned so far.

1. Have the humility to get out of your own way.

There is a lot of ego in entrepreneurship. Some good, some bad. I knew this coming into the class. It wasn’t until we had Manoj Madnani, prolific entrepreneur, investor, and advisor, come into class to talk to us that I began to see the real value of humility.

Manoj is one of the most humble yet one of the most successful men I’ve ever heard speak. Despite all of his successes (and perhaps because of them), Manoj has an outlook on life focused on having an exponential impact with everything he does. I even wrote down a quote from him where he said,

I am nothing. I’m merely an instrument to get things done.

– Manoj Madnani, 2021

I asked him if he had always had this outlook, and he said he definitely did not. He said he used to struggle with his ego, and that this lesson was learned over time and after many trials and errors. I have learned from his story and seek to continue my journey with humility.

2. What you do is not as important as how you do it.

One thing that this class has a big emphasis on is the importance of the method of communication, rather than the communication itself. Presentations have been given via video, skit, commercial, sock puppet, song, poem, children’s story, infomercial-type sales pitch, gameshow, interactive trial, and more.

This has opened my eyes to think differently about the way I present information. And I believe this skill of thinking differently in presentations is increasingly important; we are all inundated with so much information and data that it’s imperative to stand out to get your message across. And experimenting with these formats in a low-risk environment such as this class has been incredible.

3. Know your shit. And be able to prioritize it.

One thing I learned early on in the class was how to be able to prioritize the information during a presentation. Professor Green and Professor Rice both explained instances where they’ve had to (unwillingly) adapt longer-form presentations into shorter ones on the cuff.

There have been a few times where we came to class prepared with a 4-minute presentation that was reduced to 3-minutes, or 1-minute to 30 seconds. This requires you to really know your shit, and be able to get your main points across no matter how much time you have. You can’t just memorize a script to do something like that; you have to understand thoroughly what you’re trying to convey and why.

I know I will undoubtedly have to use this skill in future presentations, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to experiment learning to adapt to changing conditions in this environment.

4. How to think outside the box.

I’d say thinking “outside the box” is one of the primary tenants of this class. It’s honestly astonishing how they are able to get students to learn to do this — it didn’t seem teachable to me at first. But the competitive, semi-high pressure environment of the course forces you to come up with the most interesting, innovative ideas possible. Nothing is off limits (well, almost nothing). Nothing is too crazy. All ideas are at least entertained.

And for someone so perfectionistic and process-oriented like me… well, this is a continual learning curve. At the Young Entrepreneurs Conference for eTower, Professor Green summed up this sentiment well:

From childhood you’re taught to think logically and in the box… You need to get yourself out of that box.

Len Green, Young Entrepreneurs Conference, 2021

This is something I’m continually learning as we go, and I’m looking forward to experimenting more with the time we have left. I’m slowly getting more and more comfortable with the outside the box world.

5. It’s okay to disagree.

In our case study format, Professor Green chooses cases that he hopes about half the students will believe one thing, and about half the other. There is no right answer. If your prediction was false, you are not wrong. It’s all about your thinking behind your answer that matters, rather than the answer itself.

In group settings, it is easy to follow the leader or be afraid to go out on a limb with a completely different opinion. Somehow, through the crazy nature of this class, it’s become a breeding ground for disagreements. It feels comfortable to give a different opinion. We created a supportive classroom culture where we can disagree with one another without putting each other down or making each other feel wrong in any way. And these self-led conversations in class are some of the most interesting ones we have. We call on each other as we go along to keep coming up with different perspectives.

While most environments aren’t quite like that, I think being able to venture out in this safe space has given me the confidence to try it elsewhere. So next time the group thinks one thing and I think another, I won’t conform for fear of being wrong. And that’s a huge lesson in my book.

6. The importance of being thorough.

I remember the first day of class, about 30% of the students had shown up with a slip of paper and handed it in to the Professor when he came in. The 70% or so who didn’t do this were looking around, whispering to each other, with confused looks. What did they miss?

Well, the syllabus had a little easter egg in it on the bottom of page 4:

Excerpt from our course syllabus, assigned to be read before coming to class

The lesson here was to not half-ass things. Do them all the way. Be thorough. Show up prepared. I’ll never forget this lesson. Thankfully, I was one of the people with a slip. And I never want to be one of the people whispering, confused.

7. The value of relationships.

Looking up to Len Green as a successful business leader, I’ve been able to observe an important trend in his life: the value of relationships. And this goes for the majority of our class speakers as well.

You always hear how important your “network” is in the business world – but it’s so transactional. I’ve been able to see Professor Green’s connections come back, talk about the impact he made on their lives, and how much they trust and admire him. And Professor Green’s perspective is that helping people is what it’s all about – there is no use in having skills or talents or connections or money if you can’t use it for the benefit of others. And that’s what he’s been doing his entire career.

I look at Professor Green’s network in awe. I see the relationships, business connections, and friendships he’s formed throughout the years, and I’m inspired. I want to have a group like that to lean on in my professional and personal life. While simple, this observation has been very powerful for me and I will take this lesson with me throughout my life… especially as someone more introverted who it can be difficult to justify socialization to in the moment.

8. There is no such thing as “balance” – but be sure to diversify.

One thing we tend to ask our speakers is about balance. What is it like running XYZ company while managing some semblance of a personal life or family? I’ve noticed and noted a particular trend: none of them believe in this “work-life balance” thing.

I remember in particular, Chris Jacobs, Babson Alum and founder of Glic Health, made the analogy that finding balance is like grabbing a fish jumping out of water; nearly impossible, and even if you do, it’ll slip out of your hands in a second. And most others have agreed — balance is BS.

But, I have also noted another thing: most of bring the idea of risk and extremes that they have in their professional lives, to their personal lives. Whether it’s through hiking, skiing, horse racing, ice baths, meditation, or some form of intense pranayama, each of them has some sort of thing they go “all-in” on in their personal lives. And while this doesn’t necessarily mean balance, it certainly makes them feel better about themselves and their lives.

I think it’s really cool how they make sure to diversify what they are learning and doing, even though it would be completely understandable given how much they do at work to focus on that. I think it shows that the recipe to success includes some form of focus on yourself in addition to the work/career that you do.

9. Pick your team wisely.

Throughout both the speakers and our real life teams, I’ve discovered that the people you work with mean so much more than the ideas you’re working with. Ideas, products, companies… they are nothing without the people who run them. And Len Green has stated that he mostly invests in the person, rather than the idea. He sees potential in people and makes bets on that.

In our groups and group projects, I can see teams that are working really well and teams that are working less well. And typically, the teams with the best dynamics are coming out on top. More collaboration, ideation, and creativity happens with a good team where everyone feels safe and excited to participate. Almost all of our speakers have alluded to this in some way, referring to the people who helped them build what they built.

I think there’s a misconception that entrepreneurship has to be lonely; I think that these stories tell something different. You just have to find the right team.

10. Nothing has to be boring.

And, finally, I realized that even the most mundane things, don’t have to be mundane. Like a picture of a fish. We spent a whole couple hours talking about the fish below. We presented the fish, personified the fish, gave the fish so much more meaning than one could imagine.

So this class taught me to dig beneath the surface; nothing is boring if you look hard enough. Not even a midterm asking you to “list 10 things you learned so far in this class.” 😉

❤ Alicia

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