Note: This post originally appeared on Mozilla’s Hive Toronto. It has been reposted here with permission from the author.

“What can you use this shoe for?”

It seemed an odd question with which to begin this meet-up. The group of 15 educators from the HIVE learning community gathered at MaRS Discovery District had been promised an overview of the MaRS Entrepreneurial Thinking project, and could be forgiven for their uncertainty as to what this had to do with the ratty looking sneaker staring back at them. However, it didn’t take long for their sense of adventure to trump any initial confusion:

“It’s a fly-swatter!” “I could bail my boat with it!” “It would make a great flowerpot!” “I could use the laces as a hair-tie!” “It could be used as part of a storytelling exercise!” “Let’s use it to frame a discussion about gender stereotypes!”

The shoe, as it turns out, could also be used to exercise our divergent thinking. This simple activity is a favourite of researchers and facilitators who explore how we can study, measure and refine creativity. By examining both the quantity and abstraction of the responses to this challenge, we gain insight into our ability to think fluidly and arrive at unexpected solutions. And as you might expect, the more times people engage in this activity, the more creative their answers become—a tantalizing finding that suggests that creativity is something that can be increased through practice.

At its core, the shoe activity is a powerful demonstration of what it means to think like an entrepreneur. Although it can be tempting to define entrepreneurs as those who invent something new, it is much more accurate (and useful) to understand them as people who leverage, combine and modify what already exists in creative new ways. Henry Ford did not invent the car, and assembly line techniques were used to build the Roman Colosseum nearly two millennia before they reshaped Detroit. Like all great entrepreneurs, it was Ford’s ability to rethink how existing technologies and processes could be used that led to his indelible impact on the world.

Cultivating this flexible, enterprising mindset in our students starts by practicing it ourselves. The Entrepreneurial Thinking project at MaRS helps educators to think divergently about how they use, combine and modify entrepreneurial lessons and activities. Just as a shoe can be used for much more than walking, the competencies of entrepreneurship can be used much more broadly than starting a business. By exploring the many different contexts and uses for entrepreneurship, the Entrepreneurial Thinking project aims to spread this vital skillset across subjects and grade levels, while simultaneously providing educators with an opportunity to practice and increase their creativity.

“What can you use this entrepreneurial technique for?”

This was the question that framed the remainder of the HIVE meet-up at MaRS. It was asked as the educators sampled resources from the MaRS Entrepreneurial Thinking Toolkit, including activities in personal branding, problem exploration, rapid prototyping, and pitching.

Since these educators came from a variety of organizations, it was essential that they saw these resources as tools that can be used to build educational experiences that fit the unique needs of their students. The brief examination of the toolkit hinted at some of the divergent applications that are possible with its materials. In the hands of an enterprising teacher personal branding can be used to help students with group work, problem exploration can be harnessed as a research tool, prototyping becomes a great way to teach communication skills, and pitching can be leveraged as a remarkable studying technique.

Of course, with only two hours together, we only scratched the surface of what is possible when we approach entrepreneurship education with a divergent, enterprising mindset. But this is as it should be. The depth of any rich educational initiative comes not from the materials themselves, but from what teachers and students build with them.

Ryan Burwell

A teacher by training and entrepreneur by disposition, Ryan built his career by identifying and pursuing opportunities for innovation in the education system. He landed his first teaching position in 2004 by pitching a small liberal arts high school on the first of many interdisciplinary courses he would design throughout his time in the classroom. Based on the success of these courses, Ryan was asked to help launch Toronto New School in 2009. See more…