In Conversation with Gary Schoeniger- Entrepreneurial thinking is a natural human tendency

The Editor,  Sihle Magubane had a conversation with Gary Schoeniger, Founder and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, a social enterprise dedicated to entrepreneurial learning and training. These are some of the extracts from that conversation:

Gary studies the origins and evolution of entrepreneurial thinking. He believes that entrepreneurial thinking is a natural human tendency.  He illustrated how human beings  have been applying entrepreneurial thinking since Paleolithic times where they traded goods and engaged in other entrepreneurial activities almost naturally. Fast forward, the industrial revolution came. With the industrial revolution, he believes that humans then  learnt not to be entrepreneurial and  focused more on learning how to be managerial or to be managed. Part of his work involves interviewing everyday entrepreneurs, to not only figure out what they do, but their motivations and purpose in engaging in entrepreneurial activity.

What is it that we need to do in order to get people to move from a helpless state to a more masterful mindset of entrepreneurial thinking?  Below are three key takeaways from the conversation with Gary: 1. we need to redefine what the entrepreneurial mindset is, 2. entrepreneurial ideas evolve over time and are not one time events, and 3. There are big challenges facing those that educate entrepreneurs.

 Redefining the entrepreneurial mindset

Gary defines the entrepreneurial mindset as a core assumption that “it is my responsibility to figure out how I make myself as useful as possible, to as many as possible, and by doing so I can empower myself”

Becoming entrepreneurial is a natural human tendency, does not require access to venture capital, power, privilege or advanced academics- it requires the ability to see  how to make yourself more useful to as many people as possible. His work is to help more people move from a helpless to mastery mindset in that domain.

Ideas evolve over time

The second lesson is that most ideas start out as bad ideas. They don’t fall out of the sky, nor are they are obvious at inception. They can take years and decades to unfold. But most people are so enamored with Silicon Valley examples of Uber or Facebook, ideas that seemed to be perfectly formed at inception, but even those evolved over time. By putting these examples out and thinking that they were perfectly formed ideas we undermine our ability to encourage entrepreneurial behavior.

In order to facilitate more entrepreneurial activity – it’s up to us as educators to tell the real the entrepreneurial story. To tell the real story of how it unfolds. We also need to increasingly take on the role of facilitators instead of teachers. You cannot teach discovery, you can only facilitate it.

The two big challenges ahead of those doing this work.

The first challenge facing entrepreneurship educators  is to help the world redefine the word entrepreneurship and its notions. Then  the follow up from there is to  help  fellow educators, policy makers, business people, academic leaders and others to see the idea of entrepreneurship as beyond a business startup.

The second challenge is to overcome the institutional and cultural immunity to change. “I believe we are at the cusp of a new entrepreneurial revolution. Just as at the beginning of the industrial revolution- we didn’t know what managerialism was. Likewise, at this cusp, we think entrepreneurship is hardly understood”, Gary emphasized.

If we are looking at the future through the eyes of an employee or manager, the future looks frightening, with the advancement of artificial intelligence and robotics- but the future is full of opportunity for those who choose to think like entrepreneurs. The future will not be kind to individuals, companies, institutions and others who refuse to embrace these entrepreneurial attitudes and skills. It is the only way to actualize human potential and capacity.


Gary Schoeniger is an  internationally recognized thought leader in the field of entrepreneurial mindset education. As the founder of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, Schoeniger has influenced a broad audience from higher education and economic development organizations to government, corporate and non-profit clients worldwide.