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Meet the Faculty

Interview with Terrence Brown and Gregg Vanourek

“Managing chaos is a key part of entrepreneurship”

Terrence Brown and Gregg Vanourek are part of our faculty at KTH and have both been with SSES for many years. Terrence joined us in 1999, in the very beginning, and Gregg in 2011. Since they carry an important part of the SSES legacy, we wanted to sit down with them one-on-one to hear more about their view of entrepreneurship and what students can expect to learn from the Ideation course.

Name: Terrence Brown and Gregg Vanourek
Title: Terrence is Centre Director and Course Director at KTH Gregg is Vice Center Director and Course Director at KTH
SSES Course: Ideation – Creating a Business Idea

Why should a student apply to Ideation?
T: The course is designed to be a first glimpse into entrepreneurship, starting with the big picture and the context and then moving into techniques for generating and evaluating opportunities. It’s a great chance to practice the art of ideation and to learn whether to develop, grow or throw away an idea and start over.

What can a student expect to learn from your course?
G: They will learn tools, frameworks and techniques for generating ideas that can solve real-world problems and add value to society. Students will go through the rigorous process of evaluating if an idea has what it takes, in part by interacting with potential customers. Being part of a diverse group, they will develop, choose and test the viability of an idea during the course of 7 weeks, learning about different customers, industries, and business models in the process. We want to teach students to view the market as the primary judge of ideas, to show them that there is no crystal ball, and that often the best way to get feedback on one’s idea is to put it in front of people.

How would you describe an entrepreneurial mindset?
G: The word “entrepreneur” is about taking action, referring to a person who undertakes something. It’s not just about thinking but about following up and making use of financial, personal, and social resources in ways that generate value.
We are hoping to demystify entrepreneurship by making it accessible to people who might otherwise feel excluded by the traditional connotations. Entrepreneurship is much more about the process and the mindset than the actual idea. By giving students the opportunity to experience what it would be like to launch a startup, we give them a sense of ownership and responsibility for the outcome, an internal locus of control. This process is crucial in life, whether you end up starting a company, becoming a social entrepreneur, or working as an intrapreneur in a large corporation.

Why is interdisciplinarity and diversity important in education?
G: Diverse groups produce better outcomes, simple as that. Being creative is all about crossing domains, making associations and creating new combinations, and the more perspectives, domains, and cultures you have in a group, the more original ideas can be created. The challenge is to manage the diversity effectively. In a diverse group you will have misunderstandings, conflicts and spats, but that’s part of the learning process and you will learn how to work through that. As humans, we are limited in our own thinking, we rely on mental shortcuts when making decisions and it’s really hard for us to see the world from a different perspective. But my experience is that you can learn to de-bias the process and get a clearer view of reality.

T: Exactly. People have blind spots and the more people you gather, the fewer the blind spots. I would also like to problematize the notion of diversity. Depending on the task at hand, diversity can be positive or negative. In creative tasks, maximizing diversity is generally a good idea, while in other tasks, homogeneous groups can produce the best results. I strongly believe that the organizations that learn how to manage diversity well are the organizations that will succeed in the future.

So, how do you manage diversity well?
G: In order to make sure that the 80 students that will be working together for 7 weeks get the most value out of the experience, we put a lot of effort into team dynamics. All groups create their own set of rules, outlining what is acceptable behavior, how to celebrate wins, and how to communicate. This process helps set the tone and align expectations early on. We aim to create a learning environment where diversity is celebrated, allowing space for debate and dialogue where students can immerse themselves into the plethora of different perspectives in the classroom. Managing chaos is a key part of entrepreneurship.

What do you most look forward to with the course?
G: To see the “personality” of each new cohort. Each course has a life of its own, some groups are more shy and careful, others are more outspoken and fun. I love to see what happens when you put a group of students from different fields like finance, engineering, accounting and philosophy, who might not be used to this kind of course, and see how they experience the notion of “serious play,” an important part of the creative process.

T: A lot of students with a technical background tend to share the basic assumption that “soft” means easy and “hard” means rigorous, but with experience they learn to realize the soft parts are the hardest because they don’t have a clear formula or solution. I’ve seen this happen in the course, and it’s always interesting to observe students who immerse themselves in the experience and learn how to merge the creative method and the scientific process in a way improves their quality of ideation.

G: Another thing I look forward to with each new batch is to see how they cope with feedback. Being able to give and receive feedback is an entrepreneurial superpower. But it requires practice and can be uncomfortable in the beginning. I always like to see to what extent students embrace the feedback opportunity. Will they fall in love with feedback? What a gift.