In this second episode of a two part series, CEO and Founder of StartEdUp, Don Wettrick continues on how innovation in the classroom creates disruption in the business world. He's also a Noblesville High School teacher and host of The StartEdUp Podcast.
Welcome to another episode of the ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, I’m your host Matt Martella joined by, as always, Associate Dean of Academic Programs, Phil Powell. Before we dive into this episode, I just want to say, thank you to everyone who has shared our podcast on social media and with friends. We work hard to help organizations make better decisions through our weekly content. And if this is your first time joining us, we just want to say welcome. If you enjoy our podcast, we would really appreciate it if you left us a review on iTunes.
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On this episode, we’re continuing with part two of this two part series with CEO of StartEdUp, Don Wettrick who is working to change education by leading and inspiring teachers and students with innovation and entrepreneurship.
Last week Don took us inside his classroom where he carefully teaches students to think for themselves. It’s not about receiving a grade in his class to graduate, it’s about creating innovation among his students. He also shared some incredible success stories from his students. If you missed the first part, I highly recommend you go back and take a listen because Don sets the foundation for today’s topic.
Today, Don’s helping us apply what he teaches his students – innovation as the breeding grounds for success. It all starts with educating ourselves well past graduation.
Don Wettrick: Refocus on what your education even is; even if you're 46, I'm 46, right? That's the one thing I love about being in this class, on most days, I'm the dumbest person in this room. My students, collectively, know way more than I ever will. So I'm constantly... we use this term way too much, but I'm a life-long learner. And I also spot trends. And I want to be a part of that. Therefore, and I'm not bashing people, like, I'm mortified that people will brag about the fact that they've binged watched a season of, fill in your favorite show over a weekend. I'm like, why? Why? So I'm looking to improve or get left behind. Watching Game of Thrones, season one through five is just stupid, in my humble opinion. If you're filling your brain with positive things and things that are going to move you forward, you're going to be ahead. And that's not compliance based, that's just me wanting to be better. But the whole.. my thing I can't stand when you hear this around graduation, "I'm outta here!" That's signaling that you are done learning. There is nothing more toxic in our society than you being done learning. Right? So if you are 46, if you are 56, you can constantly upgrade, you can constantly re-invent yourself, and by the way you should. Because there are a lot of things that are scarily going to go away. And if you are than, you are going to be ahead of the game.
Yet, innovation and education cannot thrive without failure.
Don Wettrick: This is my favorite thing to talk about. I'm going to give a metaphor. Asking a kid, if they had to buy a video game, a video game now costs $75 bucks unless it's Fortnite, which is free, which it's not free but... If they spent $75 bucks, and they beat the game on the first try, they would hate the game. Because there's no failure! People like failure. Like, when we ask a girl to dance, and every time we got a yes, that's just straight up boring. There's no challenge in that. We like failure - we just don't like it in school. And this is my whole point of the whole compliance thing, are we here to learn? Or are we here to comply? I remember when I was in college, there were two types of professors. There was one professor that, he was a little bit free-spirited, let's say and that everybody got an "A" and you were there to learn. Or there was the guy that said, "hey, this class is going to be tough but it's going to be worth it." The drop/add period, no one wanted the professor that challenged you! Because you weren't there you learn, you were there to get a grade and just get a degree. That's scary! Now again, I got away with that in 1995. That's different. So the whole approach failure I then, again that culture build? Hey, what are you here for? By the way, my grading is based on their reflections. They tell me what they deserve. And they usually don't B-S me. By the third or fourth week, they know you're not going to B-S me out of it. So if you're like, I deserve an "A," why? And then you tell me why. But that failure has got to be a part of it. No one ever first released a product on their first iteration. Actually it wouldn't be an iteration if it's their first try, but you get my point. It's got to be a part of it. And once you get that off the table, like okay, let's all breath, it's ok if this first line of code doesn't work or if your first event didn't get 100 people to show up to it, that is version number one, it's cool.
For some, we wrestle with, “well, I was not born an entrepreneur, therefore I cannot start…” fill in the blank. But Don disagrees.
Don Wettrick: There are some born entrepreneurs, I'm sure. And there are risk takers. But I'm going to quote Adam Grant. I really liked Adam Grant's book, Originals. Opening chapter is the kids, the college students that started Warby Parker. They all had backups. They were all going to take really cool jobs if this Warby Parker thing didn't work out. And I think that there's this misnomer that the total "Maverick," the total screw it all, I'm going all in, putting all the chips in the middle of the table as an entrepreneur. The measured, careful, "I'm going to be prudent about this" is also an entrepreneur. So it can always be trained. I shudder when people think, "I was a born entrepreneur." They're made as well. There's a difference between imagination and creativity, but then there's a difference between creativity and innovation. Imagination you think it, creativity you start doing it, right? If it's really creative and totally new or at least totally new to you, now it's innovative. That is our priority one. Starting them to see opportunities and starting to see things in a different light, that is needed in today's workforce. Workforce, as in you're working for somebody else. I'm cool with that. However, in that innovation process, if they're like, "Wettrick, I'm onto something." That is when the pressure's off. I don't force them to be entrepreneurial, but that's when we have some time to say, "okay, now let's go through lean start up, let's go through a canvas method, let's go through Gantt charts," you know, pick your poison. Once they have that entrepreneurial mindset and some skills, then they I gently encourage them to pursue it. And then that's kind of what our foundation does, I can get into that later, but you know I started looking into, alright, let's look into seed funding or see if you can boots strap this or etc. But again, I don't force them to be entrepreneurial, I just encourage it if they get to that level. The fun part is that sometimes they're in the later stages of life and they have some capital and they can hire my students. One of the things we have coming up here we will run an analytics and several other things. We're going to go out and help small businesses. I'm actually getting small businesses approaching us, which is a great thing to have. But I'm like, "okay, be on standby. I would rather my students go and find you." I don't want to like, "you get this company, and you get that company." I'm telling them, go out and find it. Just the other day, I went to a restaurant in Indianapolis, which I won't say who they were. It was a fantastic experience and no one was in there. I'm like, what the literal hell. And they're like, "we hope more people will talk about it." I'm like, "what's your Facebook page? What are you branding? How are you marketing? Do you incentive anybody that checks in on Snapchat?" - "What's Snapchat?" - Oh my God, come on! $5 in ads will increase your traffic. My kids can go and help that business right now. So I'll get in these strike-up conversations and I'm like, "Here's my number, call my students." But I'm trying to train them to do that. So they can start reaching out to the place that makes the wonderful cupcakes but they're in their 70s or the new business that just opened down the street and they sell whatever. I want my students to go, "Hey, I've been working on this stuff in class. Can I put it to use?" And that's a great thing. Again, I don't expect them all to be in business or be entrepreneurial, but just helping them just gives them and insight and awareness on how to make things better.
And it’s up to us, organizational leaders, to identify innovators, then come alongside them in mentorship. Don says we also need to knock down the walls that hinder innovation. Especially in the education world.
Don Wettrick: My first instinct would just say, get them out into the real world while they're in class. I think that there's a lot to be learned in theory. There are certain things you have to learn, but there's also a lot of the experiential that isn't going to be in the classroom, ever. So the more you can find mentorships, the more you can collaborate, the more you can help other, smaller businesses in Marion County, Monroe County, wherever would be beneficial in my opinion. And then also, and I don't know what your guys' policy is, take away the I-P thing. That is one of the things that have changed here in my 2nd year of this class. And for full disclosure, this wasn't at Noblesville. But the high school where I was at, our students wrote a book and put it out on Amazon. And it wasn't going to be a best seller, but it was starting to sell some books. And they were like, "hey, where's our royalty check?" I'm like, "what do you mean?" And they're like, "well, the students wrote it on the school's computers, right?" - "Yeah" - "On school time, right?" - "Yeah" - "By interviewing other students, right?" - "Yeah" - "That's our check." Legally they're right. So Noblesville, man I'm living the dream here, anything the students come up with here, it's their I-P. So that's my beef, I don't know the policies of Kelley, but that is my beef with a lot of colleges. If you come up with something on university time, the university owns it. That's gotta end. And by the way, a lot of times when your students go on to be really successful, they'll write a nice check anyway.
Innovation is not simply inventing the next best product. Innovation happens within our branding – both organizationally and personally.
Don Wettrick: And lastly, everybody, and this is my Gary V. moment, every company is a media company. Every person is their own media brand. I think if you are 56 you can re-invent yourself. You can stand for something. Whether that's through your church, whether that's through your works, your hobbies, your passions. If you're really into Smurfs comic books, you could be one of the most authoritarians on Smurf comic books, seasons one through eight, if all of a sudden you wanted to grow and brand that. You can stand for something and there's never been an easier time than now. So if you're 56, 66, 76, 26, you can still start learning and pursuing those passions.
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So let’s recap. As leaders, Don says we need to refocus our education – we need to stay hungry to learn and looking to re-invent ourselves because we will either improve or get left behind in this world. Next, people enjoy failure – not all the time, but in doses. We want the challenge of learning how to succeed. Videogames are dull if they don’t have moments of failure. Just like success is not sweet if we don’t have that hero’s journey of overcoming obstacles. Don then explains that entrepreneurs and innovators are not simply, “let’s go all in” minded. Some very successful innovators have amazing back up plans in case their ideas fall through. And great news, one is not simply born an entrepreneur, we all have the ability to learn how to innovate. Finally, our organizations and individual likeness are brands. No matter our age, no matter our organization, we possess the tools to re-invent ourselves and stand for a deep held belief.
As always, we want to thank you for listening. Our goal with each episode is to help organizations make better decisions. This has been another episode of the ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. I’m your host, Matt Martella alongside Phil Powell. We’ll see you next week.