Manifesting an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Mike Peña, Stanford University March 10, 2014

It seems self-evident that any innovative venture or idea begins with an entrepreneurial mindset — especially here in Silicon Valley. But innovation isn’t isolated to any one region, and the concept of an “entrepreneurial mindset” deserves to be defined.

It may be helpful, though, to let veterans of the valley explain things from their perspective. For instance, Susan Siegel, a corporate officer at General Electric based in the region, identifies two components that together make up a mindset: attitude and approach.

Beyond being a top executive in one of America’s largest and most established corporations, Siegel is also CEO of healthymagination — GE’s $6 billion initiative to improve the quality, access and affordability of healthcare around the world.

Here’s what Siegel — recognized as one of “the 100 Most Influential Women in Silicon Valley” — had to say about fostering an innovative mindset at her Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (ETL) talk in 2012.

Once you have the proper mindset, of course, the next step is putting those good intentions into action. A recent ETL talk illustrates this perfectly: Stanford math Prof. Gunnar Carlsson appeared on stage last month with Gurjeet Singh, who first stood out to the renowned mathematician while Singh was working on his doctoral degree.

But it wasn’t simply Singh’s intelligence that caught Carlsson’s eye, it was the student’s bias towards action. Singh wasn’t just a methodical mathematician, he was a maker in the truest sense. During their talk Carlsson repeatedly mentioned Singh’s penchant for “prototyping” ideas and concepts – a term normally associated with the building of more tangible objects.

“Not only do you need to be smart,” Carlsson explained, “but you need to want to do something and to carry something out and to actually solve a problem — as opposed to writing a paper or finding a pretty piece of theory.”

The professor and student went on to co-found Ayasdi, a big-data analysis startup focused on major societal problems in need of innovative solutions. 

In so many words, that’s also how Stanford Prof. Bob Sutton put it during his Feb. 12 ETL talk on his new book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less. Co-written with a colleague at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Prof. Huggy Rao, Scaling Up Excellence discusses what it takes to build and uncover pockets of exemplary performance and spread a mindset of constructive beliefs and practices as an organization grows.

A professor in the Stanford School of Engineering’s Department of Management Science & Engineering, Sutton’s actual words were, “Live a mindset, don’t just talk about it.”