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Sometimes the Best Advice is No Advice

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

I’ve always been hesitant to call myself an “expert” at anything for a couple of reasons. First, how do you know when you know enough about a particular subject to know you’re an expert? Also, based on what I hear from the so-called experts in the hosts of arenas of today’s society, I don’t really want to be identified and associated with this class of experts. I was hired by Independence Community College in 2006 to launch what they had already named the “Successful Entrepreneur” program to create a practical, i.e., non-academic, program to offer nuts and bolts practical information and advice to entrepreneurs and small business owners. I was a little bit intimidated by the idea that I knew enough to give anyone advice, especially someone whose business I knew nothing about. Fortunately, since then, I’ve figured out that one doesn’t need to “give advice” to be considered a good advisor. Hence, sometimes the best advice is no advice.

Facilitator/Mentor to Facilitator/Business Coach

My first business cards listed me as facilitator/mentor. The facilitator part was ok. That implies that I facilitate learning, I don’t “teach.” I was not comfortable with calling myself a mentor. I thought then, and still do, that mentor is something people might choose to call me, but it is presumptuous to call myself a mentor. When I finally used up the first supply of cards and ordered more, I changed my title to facilitator/business coach. That seemed less presumptuous. Today, I realize that not calling myself a mentor or teacher goes hand in hand with the idea that the best advice is no advice.

Entrepreneurship Training That Is Not Inspiring

In those early days, from 2006 to 2011, I thought the best practices of advising people to start businesses was to encourage them to write lengthy business plans, including how much funding they would need in order to launch. Also, that I should advise, i.e., warn, them about how many hours they’d have to work, how hard it would be, and how much money in taxes they would pay. In those days, we practitioners used to sit around in meetings trying to figure out why more people didn’t want to start businesses. Looking back at the way we “advised’ them, I can see why. Our advice lacked any kind of inspiration. What inspiration they may have had up front was quickly snuffed out by our advice of big business plans and incredible difficulties.

Finding An Entrepreneurship Program That Is Inspiring

Then, in October of 2011, at a community college conference in Portland Oregon, I learned about something called the Ice House Entrepreneurship program and that changed everything about how I thought about coaching new entrepreneurs and small business owners. (For more info on Ice House, go to our site, www.fablabicc.org, and search for “Origin of Ice House Part 1.”)

Ice House was revolutionary in that it instilled an entrepreneurial mindset in people by recognizing that entrepreneurs look at the world differently. They see problems as opportunities waiting for new and innovative solutions. If you ask an entrepreneur how they think, they can’t tell you, but if you ask them to tell their stories, you will begin to understand how they think. Ice House founder Gary Schoeniger, who, himself became an entrepreneur without a business education or a lot of money, realized this early on. He centered the program around video interviews with hundreds of entrepreneurs, generally asking them to just tell their stories and to refrain from giving advice. This keeps the learning on a peer-to-peer level, rather than the hierarchical level of conventional teaching and advising. He learned the value of peer-to-peer as a recovering alcoholic where peers in the program were strongly cautioned against giving advice. He also began to realize that the desire to fulfill human needs by helping others is a powerful motivating force. People have an innate need to self-actualize, that is reach their full potential and when people learn to recognize opportunities to help others, it helps them reach their own full potential. As Schoeniger puts it, “The desire to learn is also innate. Humans are no different from any other mammal in that we are all born with the innate desire and the capacity to learn everything we need to learn in order to adapt and thrive in our environment. Sometimes, formal education can interfere with this innate tendency.”

Facilitation is the Key

These ideas and concepts all ended up being baked into the Ice House program and it explains to me why the program is so powerful for all people, not just those wishing to start businesses. So, my “teaching” and “advising” is not really teaching and advising at all. Rather it is facilitating self-learning and self-improvement through telling stories from my own experience and also by sharing the experiences of great entrepreneurs, both through the Ice House program and also through the entrepreneurs and small business owners in our own back yard. Schoeniger also says “Facilitation is the key. The entrepreneurial process is a process of discovery. This requires facilitation rather than instruction. Guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” Thus, the realization that the best advice is no advice.

Jim Correll can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Fab Lab ICC or Independence Community College. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org.


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