Put First Things First (Part 3/3)

By Isaiah Baldissera, lead educator, Groundswell BUILD.

This post is a continuation of 'Social Doesn't Mean Special' (Part 2/3) and 'Clarity is King' (Part 1/3) based on my learnings working with urban social entrepreneurs at Groundswell.

Put first things first

We hold entrepreneurs in high esteem because they do something extremely difficult: they manage dozens of roles singlehandedly in the midst of immense uncertainty. For those on the outside looking in, entrepreneurs may appear to be the ultimate multi-taskers. However, as I’ve found with this cohort, the most successful are those who maintain a relentless focus on the single most important task at hand and weed out distractions ruthlessly. I’ll add that many of these distractions come disguised as beneficial opportunities: a reporter’s request for an interview, a panel seat at a popular conference, or a partnership proposal.

The wise social entrepreneur understands that the only thing that matters is building a great product/service and getting into the hands of the people that need it. Everything else is a distraction.

Of course, getting bogged down in the myriad of to-dos and non-essentials of running a business is a common problem. I recommend that founders keep a detailed calendar and amend it in retrospect to accurately reflect what they’ve actually done, and for how long. At the beginning of each week, I encourage them to set priorities and explicit goals, then review what transpired before setting goals for the subsequent week.

Key takeaway: Find out how much of your week is devoted to building a better product or service. If this is below 60%, it’s time to rethink your agenda.

Final thoughts

After working with this year’s batch of aspiring social entrepreneurs, I’m more convinced than ever that the way we teach social entrepreneurship should align with how we instruct entrepreneurs to operate by remaining agile and testing ideas rapidly — throwing out the bad ones and refining the good ones. It’s essential that a teacher have a loose structure that allows for flexibility in light of ongoing feedback from students.

Just as an entrepreneur constantly tests hypotheses, seeking validation for what works, an effective teacher is constantly searching for better tools, activities, and methods to help students learn. Easier said than done? Yes. But I believe that is the type of progressive mentality that differentiates the Groundswell program: one which strives to adapt and meet participants where they are at.

Looking back at my first year teaching at Groundswell, I couldn’t have asked for a more diverse, interesting, and supportive community of aspiring entrepreneurs to work with. I’ve enjoyed seeing the progress, the epiphanies, and most importantly, the passion of each of the participants. Their visions for a better world give me hope that we will eventually solve the most pressing social and environmental challenges of our time.

Congrats to the Groundswell Class of ’18. Keep hustling.