Empowering Graduates to Create their Futures

As graduation season comes to a close, numerous websites offer their take on the best commencement speeches of 2016. Whether delivered with nostalgia, comedy, or regret, they offer graduates inspiration for tackling their next steps as they leave scripted curriculum paths for a world perceived by some as full of opportunity and others as riddled with chaos.

I’ve been thinking about some of my graduates, those who I’ve taught Effectuation to, and their stories. When people reflect on Effectuation and how it’s impacted their lives, I often hear them refer to it as “empowering”. I think the Pilot in the Plane principle has a lot to do with this.

Pilot in the Plane Principle

This is the mindset principle. When teaching Effectuation, some teach this principle at the end as the unifying principle. I prefer to start with it.

I find this principle is foundational. It is the belief that the future does not have to be known and predicted. Rather it can be controlled.

Pilot in the Plane Principle says that what you do matters. That success in innovation is not predetermined. It is not limited to those with an MBA. Or a research team. Or a big product development budget. Or who are located in New York City or Silicon Valley or London or Tokyo. While none of those attributes necessarily inhibit entrepreneurial success, they are not a requirement for it either.

Effectuation is a great equalizer. It recognizes that it’s not a single ingredient, but a combination of things, the process of bringing those things together, and the mindset to believe that you can make an impact, that creates new markets.

Effectual Mindset in Action

I am reminded of a young woman who received some Effectuation coaching recently. She didn’t have a particularly nurturing upbringing. During high school her grades were fairly middle of the pack. She didn’t cause trouble and didn’t attract praise. She enjoyed art and wood shop, things that she could make with her own hands. But she pretty much did as she was told, putting up with “the system” until she graduated.

Not particularly academic, she didn’t pursue college. Instead, she opted to go into contracting. Her focus was masonry and tiling. After working for a few years, she began to be recognized for her handiwork. Eventually, the thought of working for herself began to gnaw at her. Not knowing how to go about setting up her own business, she enrolled in a business class at the local community college.

In class, she was asked to speak about the greatest obstacle preventing her from going off on her own. She answered, “I’m a woman. And most people don’t think of asking a woman to do this kind of work”.

Her “market research” was showing that there wasn’t an opportunity for someone like her in this line of work. She could either change who she is, or what she does.

Fortunately, her teacher was instructing her in the effectual method. He challenged her not to accept the future as determined, but to change her mindset to one of “how can I turn this potential obstacle into a benefit?”

The result? She changed her thinking. Instead of focusing on what she couldn’t do, she thought about how she might be able to impact her career outcomes. She reached out to other women she knew in the industry with different skill sets but similar complaints. They discussed possible collaboration opportunities and decided to create a “by women / for women” contracting agency. They began to understand that many women are responsible for overseeing the maintenance work done by contractors during the day. These women might prefer having a female contractor working in the house while they are home alone instead of a male. Also, they began to look at ways they could better communicate with and educate women on issues in their industry.

When asked how she felt after applying Effectuation to her business, she replied, “I now have a big strength. I can do this because what I once perceived as negative societal factors I now see may give me an edge and put me on top of many established businesses”. She is confident and enthusiastic about creating her future. Now, she wrestles with having more ideas and possibilities for growing her business than time to achieve them all.

So to those who are embarking on something new, something unscripted, something unknown, I encourage you to embrace Effectuation. It won’t give you the power to predict the future, but it will give you the confidence and optimism to face it and the tools to create the future as only you can imagine.

--Written by Sara Whiffen, Founder & Managing Partner, Insights Ignited LLC