Lean Startup: Powerful for teachers


Last week, I had the opportunity to teach the Lean Startup/Design Thinking method of entrepreneurship to an inaugural group of Minnesota teachers. It was the most fun I’ve ever had leading a workshop. (The image above is from a pitch deck designed by several of the participants.)

The feedback I got from teachers was similarly enthusiastic.

It wasn’t what I thought it would be. It was more hands on, a creative challenge, a pleasant surprise for sure.”

“The pace was really good, the activity level good, and time went fast.”

“With this workshop, I truly see the value in using these methods and skills with my students. It is not just for those students who will go out and be entrepreneurs, but the problem solving and critical and creative thinking that is at the center of this program is so important with students these days. I will definitely see myself using this in my school, and even see myself using this to propose and solve my own ideas!”

What made this workshop both fun and useful for teachers, who sacrificed a week of precious summer to attend?

I think the key is the methodology itself. Learning about the Lean Startup and Design Thinking is inherently fun, and it’s also incredibly relevant to teachers and students today. Here’s why:

#1 Creativity: Learning divergent thinking — the creative process — is the first step in Design Thinking. We can’t develop new ideas by taking notes or memorizing information. We did creative warm-ups every day, like thinking of unusual uses for a paper clip, and that’s fun.

#2 Empathy: The Lean Startup method emphasizes looking for problems to solve in your community. We interviewed each other, then interviewed friends and family in the evening, to identify nagging problems, like “finding allergy-free foods” and “reducing screen time.” We practiced listening and responding to others’ needs, not just our own, which helps build empathy.

#3 Collaboration: Some people think entrepreneurship is a solo endeavor, but with this methodology we emphasize social learning and teamwork rather than a single all-star. The teachers worked in small groups to research and test ideas, develop prototype products and put on a trade show, and the energy level kept rising throughout the week.

#4 Hands on learning: Students learn better by doing, and so do teachers. We didn’t just talk about Lean Startup; we did it, and that made it much more tangible and rewarding. The teachers in this course created four viable business ventures, and one of the groups is planning to actually pursue theirs — something no one expected at the beginning of the week. (I won’t share their idea…. I’m protecting their intellectual property.)

#5 Growth Mindset:  Nothing teaches the growth mindset better than entrepreneurship. Lean Startup teaches us to “fail fast” and learn from our failures, which is exactly the resilient attitude we’re trying to cultivate in our students.

I hope all of the teachers who participated last week — a mix of social studies, business, technology and English teachers — will take their learning forward and inspire their students to practice design thinking, entrepreneurship and the growth mindset next year.

They were my prototype group, testing my “minimum viable product,” so now it’s my turn to practice what I was preaching. I’ll put the methodology to work — and make the program even better next time.

Interested in learning more about how to implement Lean Startup/Design Thinking in the classroom? Contact me at Martha.Rush@NeverBore.org.