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We Need Less Reaction and More Response

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas

What is your thought process when someone cuts you off or otherwise causes infraction in traffic? Do you a.) consider the situation for a few seconds, and shrug it off, thinking the other person is probably just having a bad day, b.) immediately honk your horn, c.) add a hand gesture d.) both b. and c. plus some audible swearing.

From lesson 1 of the Entrepreneurial Mindset class, we learn that the situation of someone cutting us off in traffic is a stimulus. Option a. is called a response while actions b., c., and d. are all called reactions. Reactions happen instantly with no time to consider them, nor the implications and/or consequences of them.

Those Angry Emails

Many of us have sent an email in anger, that we later regretted sending, about something that affected us adversely. Some of us have learned the hard way that it is better to write the email and then save it in “drafts” until the next day at which time it is either deleted or modified before actually sending. During my two years of hard time at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Coffeyville from 2001 to 2003, I sent an angry email to a weekend shift manager whose crew had worked in my area and left it in a mess for my crew to clean up Monday morning before we could start doing our actual work. For added impact, I copied the facility’s general manager. The offending shift manager apologized while the general manager sent me a reply something like this “Jim, I admire your tenacity in getting your crew what they need to do their jobs, but when you send an email like that you run the risk of people not taking you seriously.” This Harvard-graduated general manager, younger than me, had made a point that has stuck with me to this day. I still write the angry emails sometimes, but I always come back to them later editing them to get my point across in a constructive but transparent way.

Opportunity for Personal Growth and Freedom

When we react instead of responding to a stimulus, i.e., situation, we give up control of our actions to outside forces. Lesson 1 of Entrepreneurial Mindset is about the individual power to choose, not only the way that we react to stimuli but in taking control of our lives by our choices. It is our choices, not our circumstances (stimuli) that will control the outcome of our lives. Renowned psychologist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, believed that within that space between stimulus and response lies our opportunity for personal growth and freedom. What we find is that the entrepreneurs we study in the Ice House entrepreneurship program, part of the Entrepreneurial Mindset class, as well as the guest entrepreneurs from our area, have learned to respond to the stimuli in their businesses and personal lives, thus better crafting the outcomes.

Learning to respond instead of reacting when things happen is not immediate, it is an acquired skill that happens kind of like building a muscle through exercise. The best way to start is to take a breath every time something happens that requires action and respond in a measured way rather than exhibiting an immediate reaction. Over time this helps develop a realization that we can take control of our future. Other life events, situations and stimuli can contribute to this realization of control.

Entrepreneurship Changes Mindset

One of the entrepreneurs we study in the Mindset class is Rodney Walker, an African American who grew up in 15 foster homes on the south side of Chicago. Until a pivotal point in high school, Rodney didn’t see much of a future for himself. He viewed life as having two sides, a prosperous side, and a not so prosperous side. He thought his plight was permanently stuck in the not so prosperous side with no way to jump across to the other. It was through a mentor and introduction to entrepreneurship in high school that Rodney began to realize he could make decisions allowing him to choose the prosperous side to life. He went from almost dropping out of high school to graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta, then a graduate degree from Yale and a doctorate from Harvard, all on earned scholarships. That is using the power to choose to control the outcome of your life.

Once aware of reaction vs response and the idea that we all can choose the outcome of our lives, it’s easy to observe what’s going on in the world and which people are on the “prosperous side” or “not so prosperous” side of life. The Entrepreneurial Mindset class demonstrates how this works through interviews with successful entrepreneurs both national in scope through the Ice House videos and through visits by local and area entrepreneurs. We need more people to respond rather than react to the adverse stimuli in their lives whether they strive to own their own businesses or work for others.

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at Archive columns and podcasts at

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