Author: Anna Sacio-Szymańska, ITeE-PIB, Poland

In this post, you will read about the educational start-up, which has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard or Stanford universities; you will find out what competence is needed to recognize entrepreneurial opportunity in academic or business world; and you will discover how Futures Studies could revive university business education.


Recently, while analyzing the role of mindsets (cognitive abilities) in enabling individuals to both recognize and capitalize on entrepreneurial opportunities; we have come across an interesting non-profit undergraduate program offered by the Minerva Project and Keck Graduate Institute [1].

It is neither the surprisingly low acceptance rate of 1,9% – being lower than at Harvard University (5,2%) or Stanford (4,69%)[1] – nor the unique business model of the “perfect university”, which the Minerva is aspiring to become[2]; that has interested us the most.
The most appealing have been the four full-year courses, which Minerva students take in their freshman year, and the competences they provide.

The courses are the following:

  • Formal Analyses – where students learn how to use algorithms and formal thinking for debate and for perspective;
  • Empirical Analyses – which teaches how to experimentally design a hypothesis, test it, and reach a conclusion;
  • Complex Systems – which gives students the tools to apply their experimentally tested theories to a system so they can analyse second-, and third-order implications and interactions;
  • Multimodal Communications – described as a rhetoric class, where students learn about arriving upon an interesting idea, formulating essential arguments and communicating them accordingly to the medium (be it writing, public speaking, conversation or visual presentation).

These courses form a base on which the rest of the educational offer at Minerva is built.

They are not subject-matter related. Instead, they prepare the students to take a spectrum of subject matters in the following years of their study and apply what they have learned to a completely different context.

This bring us to the issue announced in the introduction: the competences.


All company owners, team leaders or team members understand just how equally important are: (a) professional work–related competences and (b) socio-emotional mindsets and skills.

The World Bank study on Entrepreneurship Education and Training Programs around the world, reports that entrepreneurs cite mindsets and skills as a potential constraint to entrepreneurial opportunity and success. What is more, further World Bank research asserts that mindsets and skills can be developed, taught, or transmitted for the purpose of entrepreneurship promotion. Research supports that when education and training systems incorporate creative skills into teaching methodologies, the mindsets more closely tied to the ‘art’ of entrepreneurship are “transmittable” [3, pp. 20-21].

And this is precisely what the Minerva Project founders are putting in practice. The logic of Minerva’s pedagogical approach [4] is to provide students with cognitive tools allowing them to develop the so called “habits of mind” and teach them to apply key competences across multiple disciplines further on throughout their lifelong learning experience.

These key competences are the following: thinking critically, thinking creatively, communicating effectively, and interacting effectively.[3]

When analyzing academic and popular literature from the fields of: innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership; we are able to find[4] many similar lists and sets of competences [6], which underpin abilities to identify, evaluate, select and use opportunities in our professional lives.

One example of such an index of competences is the list of the entrepreneurial mindsets and skills stemming from the 2014 World Bank worldwide survey [3 p. 22]:

  • self-confidence,
  • leadership,
  • creativity,
  • risk propensity,
  • motivation,
  • resilience, and self-efficacy;
  • overall awareness and perceptions of entrepreneurship;
  • general business knowledge and skills needed for opening and managing a business (accounting, marketing, risk assessment, and resource mobilization).


However, neither the Minerva’s four core competences, nor the World Bank’s list of entrepreneurial skills; gives reference to a capacity, which enables to “reflect and act in emergent situations by assessing the potentials of the present through developing narratives about possible, probable, and desirable futures” [7].

The competence in question is Futures thinking described also as Futures Literacy since it allows to “creatively envision possible futures or detect and avoid hazards while seeking to achieve a desired future” [8 p. 62].


If you are an entrepreneur, a manager, a team or research project leader you tend to operate under specific time and resource constraints and you need to take many decisions with no or less credible information.  You may follow trends, but you are not able to predict precisely what event may change the trend. What is more you cannot forecast when exactly this may happen. However, it is vital that you anticipate possible game changers well in advance. Only then you will be prepared to manage eventual implications that such an event will (or will not) generate for your business; investment or research project.

It means that professionals from all walks of life are in need of methodologies, which allow for “future orientated cognitive processing of incomplete information; the detection of patterns and creative envisioning of alternative possible futures” [8, p. 82], aren’t they?

The bad news is that Futures thinking and Futures Literacy are largely missing from the curricula of business and management faculties. And if you miss this competence in real life, you either deprive yourself (or your organization[5]) of a number of potential professional benefits, or you expose your projects to unnecessary risks and threats.

Fortunately, the good news is that such competences can be: taught, developed and cultivated [7, 10, 11, 12][6].

The question is: why do business schools keep using models to train students how to analyze large amounts of credible information in order to ascertain solutions [3 p. 22]; while the reality is different?

The above argument seems to be a logical call for recalibration and transformation of the business and management education so that they would incorporate futures thinking / futures literacy.


Further development of the international, digital knowledge economy and advancements in technology will surely trigger and sustain enormous learning imperative for all. Similarly, we can assume that the growth in demand for new entrepreneurship and leadership skills, such as futures thinking, will increase dramatically.

In such a case, what would be the envisaged direction of change for the traditional business management curricula?

It seems that they cannot focus to such extent on past, present and on economic models of financial valuation [13, p. 14], they should go beyond rational forecasting and managerial economics [14] that result in cultivating an engineering management mindset [15]. Instead they should employ and expand the concepts of incidental externalities and business durability [13, p. 14], sustainable global thinking, cross-disciplinary thinking, humanistic and scientific trends [16], ethics [15] and exploratory forecasting, which remains, to a great extent, an art [14].

The changes in business curricula should allow to develop new understandings of how intuition and reason can work together especially in the service of creativity and innovation [15].

Figure 1 illustrates how methodologies, concepts and methods of Futures Studies field could enrich and complement business and entrepreneurship education.

The aim of such a transformation of business curricula would be “to enhance the dominant paradigm of strategy building among organisations, which rests on the classical, rational approach of deliberate planning and action with more emergent and creative ways” [8, p. 122].


Despite that need for change, researchers claim that “many traditional universities will continue to operate in an ‘old-style’ mode for as long as they possibly can, (…) as they will find one or another rationale for inertia.” [19, 20 p. 96]

For them embarking on a new path involving curricula change is too difficult and risky; so they choose take the risks of following business-as-usual strategy than to take the risks associated with change.

What is the alternative in the situation where the effort and costs associated with the systemic modernization of traditional university curriculum seem to be a critical barrier?

One of the recommended solutions[7] for business faculties would be to use external funding schemes to prepare, jointly with the community of academics and practitioners from futures field, a modular, elective Futures Literacy educational offer and implement it on a pilot scale across selected faculties.

This approach is currently being tested by four universities from Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain within beFORE[8] Erasmus + Knowledge Alliance project [6].

Time will show if the efforts of forerunners experimenting with educational programs and pedagogical strategies (such as the abovementioned beFORE or the Minerva Project) will contribute to educating future leaders equipped with key competences needed to manage change and deal with uncertainty.

We strongly believe that the bottom-up initiatives (or projects) of this kind could be incorporated in a top-down learning and experimentation strategy at a university, and in consequence they could lead to its transition towards more adaptable, ‘university of the future’[9].


  1. (accessed 6 July 2018)
  3. Valerio, A, Parton, B, Robb A, 2014. Entrepreneurship Education and Training Programs around the World: Dimensions for Success. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648-0202
  4. (accessed 6 July 2018)
  5. org/aboutOnet.html (accessed 6 July 2018)
  6. eu/downloads (accessed 6 July 2018)
  7. Miller R., (2015), Learning, the Future, and Complexity. An Essay on the Emergence of Futures Literacy, European Journal of Education, Volume 50, Issue 4 December 2015 Pages 513–523
  8. Laan van der L W, Foresight Competence and the Strategic Thinking of Strategy-Level Leaders, University of Southern Queensland, 2010
  9. Ahuja G. Coff R., Lee P, Managerial foresight and attempted rent appropriantion: insider trading on knowledge of imminent breakthroughts, Strategic Management Journal, vol 26, no 9, pp. 791-808.
  10. Hayward , From individual to social foresight, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia, 2005, [accessed on 03.04.2018]
  11. Bishop P, Hines A (2012) Teaching about the future. Palgrave Macmillan, UK,
  12. Hines A., Gary J., Daheim C., Laan van der L., Building Foresight Capacity: Toward a Foresight Competency Model, World Futures Review, July 10, 2017, DOI:
  13. Ratcliffe J, Ratcliffe L (2015): Anticipatory Leadership and Strategic Foresight: Five ‘Linked Literacies’. Journal of Futures Studies September 2015, 20(1): 1-18
  14. Fontela, E, Guzmán J, Pérez M, & Santos F J. (2006). The art of entrepreneurial foresight. Foresight, 8(6), 3–13.
  15. Hurst D., (2014) Is Management Due for a Renaissance? [online] Harvard Business Review Blog Network. [Accessed 29 Mar. 2018].
  16. Roos, J. (2014). The Renaissance We Need In Business Education. [online] Harvard Business Review Blog Network. [Accessed 29 Mar. 2018].
  17. Dannenberg, S. & Grapentin, T., (2016). Education for Sustainable Development – Learning for Transformation. The Example of Germany. Journal of Futures Studies, 20(March), pp.7–20.
  18. Heinonen, S., & Ruotsalainen, J. (2012). Toward the age of neo-entrepreneurs. World Future Review, 4(2), 123-133.
  19. Clark, B.R. (2005) Sustaining Change in Universities: Continuities in Case studies and Concepts. Open University Press: England.
  20. Finn A, Ratcliffe J, Sirr L, 2007, University Futures: the Direction, Shape, and Provision of Higher Education in the University of the Future [Accessed 29 Mar. 2018].
  21. Bishop P., Bol E.  (2017), Teach the Future;


[1] In 2016 Harvard University accepted 2 037 students out of 39 041 applicants. Stanford University received 43 997 applications and admitted 2 063 students. Minerva received 16 000 applications out of which 306 were accepted [2] (accessed 5 July 2018)

[2] The interview with Ben Nelson – the Minerva’s founder [1] (accessed 6 July 2018).

[3] American O*Net Resource Center [5] defines critical thinking as a basic skill, which allows to use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems. Creative thinking facilitates developing, designing, or creating new applications, ideas, relationships, systems, or products (including artistic contributions). Whereas, communicating and interacting with others are about establishing and maintaining relationships inside or outside the organization to accomplish professional tasks.

[4] Please refer to state-of-the-art review executed within beFORE project at [6]

[5] More on futures thinking competence in the managerial context can be found in [9].

[6] It is also possible to acquire Futures thinking competence at master, post-graduate or doctoral programs or courses in the field of Futures Studies offered in many parts of the world. The selection of educational offer in this field is available here:

[7] Another possibility would be to establish co-operation links with [21, 22] which aims to introduce futures thinking to schools, and offers free teaching materials to students as well as educators.

[8]beFORE project ( aims to develop an online course in Futures Literacy for university students, academics and business representatives (all being non-futures studies professionals). Discover our reports and deliverables at

[9] A great piece on the future of universities “University Futures: the Direction, Shape, and Provision of Higher Education in the University of the Future” authored by Finn, Ratcliffe, Sirr (2007) offers an in-depth study of the key trends which have the potential to affect the future of higher education. It explores different possible formats for the University of the Future. [20]