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How Business Leaders Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset

How Business Leaders Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Article developed in collaboration with the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies

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By necessity, entrepreneurial thinkers are self-directed, life-long learners. [Illustration / iStock]

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Today’s business landscape is marked by rapid technological advancements, global connectivity, and consistently shifting market dynamics. These conditions demand entrepreneurial skills and thinking from the business leaders of today and tomorrow—whether they helm a tech startup, an established corporation, or a new small business. Business leaders must be able to imagine novel solutions and rapidly adapt their strategies to help their organizations navigate increasing market disruption.

This article will delve into the skills and attributes of an entrepreneurial mindset as well as the roles they play in addressing the challenges that businesses face today. Their impact on all aspects of business operations, from problem-solving and innovation to balancing DEI and
people-centered approaches with sustainable growth, sheds light on how cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset can empower businesses to not only survive but thrive today and into the future. The University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business Online Master of
Business Administration
(OMBA) program can help you develop these skills, no matter what stage of your career you find yourself in.

Key Attitudes Associated With an Entrepreneurial Mindset

  • Opportunity recognition: Changing market conditions can create valuable opportunities for those able to effectively interpret those conditions.
  • Risk-taking: Leveraging opportunities requires the willingness to take calculated risks. Doing so can drive both value creation and evolution.
  • Critical thinking: Risk-taking entails entering uncharted terrain, so the ability to problem solve on the fly is paramount. Critical thinking is most effective when paired with curiosity and creativity.
  • Resilience: High risk equals high reward but increased possibility of failure. Bouncing back and learning from failure can turn missteps into opportunities for growth. The ability to analyze and interpret data is also critical for an entrepreneur.
  • Growth mindset: Embrace inward-facing growth, which includes continual learning and development.

Today's Business Landscape

Before diving further into the characteristics associated with an entrepreneurial mindset and how to develop them, let’s briefly take stock of the business landscape that necessitates and rewards entrepreneurial thinking.

Organizational structures have been changing significantly, and smaller businesses could soon be the norm. 2020 saw a marked rise in the number of sole proprietorships, largely because many businesses are seeking independent contractors as a way of remaining flexible in a chaotic labor market. Many companies have also moved away from hierarchical organizational structures, opting for a more horizontal approach for its greater agility and adaptability. But this less rigid, open-role structure comes with its own challenges for effectively placing talent, as we’ll soon see.

“Today’s business environment demands that all businesses think entrepreneurially, or they will be destined to failure.”

— Steven Mednick, Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship

The flattening of organizational structure is also closely linked with geographical changes. Hybrid work has decentralized many companies and benefitted both organizations and their employees in surprising ways. Even circumstances that not long ago looked like liabilities, such as low occupancy office space, are now viewed as opportunities to leverage flexible, discounted co-working space. Relatedly, the hybrid work environment has reduced dependence on major urban centers and prompted many new businesses to seek opportunities in once overlooked parts of the U.S. This is also true on a global level, with countries like the United Arab Emirates establishing themselves as new entrepreneurial hubs.

These smaller and decentralized organizations are also balancing shifting employee values and emerging technologies. Companies today are placing increasing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, as well as employee well-being. Mastering these will be critical for talent recruitment and retention. This in turn raises the issue of figuring out how to more effectively find and place the right talent and leadership.

Finally, companies must manage these personnel challenges while also developing the capacity to integrate new technologies and gain a competitive edge. This is perhaps nowhere truer than in the field of applied AI. A McKinsey study found that, while on average organizations had doubled the number of AI functionalities they were using between 2018 and 2022, only 5% of business leaders felt they had the institutional capabilities to fully integrate new tech, personnel, and business processes in a way that gave them an advantage over their competitors.

That elusive bleeding edge of competitive advantage has always been the territory of the entrepreneur. But the complexity of today’s business environment makes an entrepreneurial mindset an imperative for survival. Steven Mednick from the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, lays the situation out in stark terms: “All businesses, large and small, must think entrepreneurially to compete in today’s ever-changing markets, or they will lose out to new businesses who better align themselves with the changing markets.”

What Is an Entrepreneurial Mindset?

There are a number of characteristics commonly associated with entrepreneurs, and not everyone agrees on all of them. But ask around and you’re likely to encounter a few crucial common denominators, namely opportunity recognition, risk-taking, and resilience. Entrepreneurs are particularly well suited at spotting opportunities that open up in the shifting business landscape, aren’t afraid to take the risks necessary to exploit those opportunities, and persist in the face of failure (if anything, they view failure as its own kind of opportunity).

The entrepreneurial mindset encapsulates a distinctive set of attitudes, behaviors, and approaches that embody the spirit of risk-taking, innovation, and proactive problem-solving. It is a dynamic cognitive framework that leverages an ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities, even in the face of uncertainty and challenges. It sees possibilities where others see obstacles, and it is driven to create and refine new ideas, products, and services even before the market has explicitly articulated their need.

The Three Cs

But it’s not only about leveraging risk. Fostering experimentation requires a concerted effort to promote self-reflexive investigation of business approaches, peer-to-peer training, and self-motivation. The entrepreneurial mindset must promote what is sometimes called the “three Cs”: curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. Among the best ways to develop this way of thinking is to join an environment in which you can experiment with peers and gain exposure to expertise. A program like USC’s OMBA can be a pivotal step toward developing an entrepreneurial mindset.

Adopting a Growth Mindset

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a significant amount of overlap here with what the psychologist Carol S. Dweck calls a “growth mindset,” which embraces continual learning, development, and adaptability. Combining these values with calculated risk in order to drive sustainable growth will only become more important in the future.

Nearly half of all new businesses fail within 3 years, and only 10% are successful in the long run. But this information isn’t discouraging new business founders. The difference between success and failure could be the opportunity to develop your entrepreneurial skills in a high impact but flexible MBA.

And while entrepreneurial thinking has traditionally been associated solely with starting a business, research fellows at the Lehigh Nasdaq Center have found that such skills now benefit most contemporary job categories. This further emphasizes the dire need for these skills today, as Prof. Mednick has suggested.

“Today’s business environment demands that all businesses think entrepreneurially, or they will be destined to failure,” Mednick said.

Self-Direction and Self-Development

By necessity, entrepreneurial thinkers are self-directed, life-long learners. They must continually absorb and process new information, industry trends, and emerging technologies. Staying informed and adapting to new knowledge and market conditions is crucial for remaining competitive, but it is also an important part of self-development. The dynamic and critical thinking skills associated with the entrepreneurial mindset can be developed and honed so that you can spot competitive advantages as they emerge.

This is exactly what USC’s OMBA is designed to do. It leverages the flexibility of online learning to put motivated working professionals in contact with expert faculty across a range of business disciplines. The program was created from the ground up, combining a unique team-teaching approach, remote learning best practices, and program design research to produce the most engaging and effective remote learning experience. “USC Marshall graduates place themselves in a superior position to advance their careers by garnering new business and personal skills, allowing them to ask better questions and to critically think through complex issues,” says Prof. Mednick. To get a sense of the exciting opportunities awaiting OMBA students, visit the program’s news and events page.

About the Online MBA at USC

Consistently ranked among the nation’s premiere schools, USC Marshall School of Business is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world’s leading business centers, USC Marshall offers its 5,700+ undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.

About the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies

At the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, students learn a mindset that sets them apart and better positions them to make a positive difference in the world. This mindset is about much more than just founders and founding processes. It is about adaptable, flexible thinking; assessing and managing risk in dynamic, uncertain environments; and finding and pursuing new opportunities.