Entrepreneurship is a way of being and not a know-how. The most difficult aspect is the intangible, because students can be taught how to write a business plan, which leads them to acquire some management expertise. But surely this kind of education does not create entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is a characteristic, it is the aptitude for risk taking, the desire of construction, curiosity, passion; it is the continuous dissatisfaction for which you want to do everything better, the continuous research for better solutions. An entrepreneur knows how to express an idea, calculating important factors such as costs, materials and market. It is someone who anticipates new concepts desired by the market, which can be innovative or express new valor.
(Article by Laureen De Palma and Paolo Nardi, based on a product of Erasmus+ project Trio2Success)
Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. First of all, entrepreneurship is a way of being. This specific type of being passes through a relation within the individual itself, with the objects around it and with other people. Therefore, the three elements involved are: the “I”, the world, and the “You”.
The essential element during the development of the I is the relation. The educational relation introduces the relation with the entire reality and infuses the ability of learning to learn. This explains why the teaching method mentoring is fundamental and must be used for teaching leadership abilities and planning skills.
Moreover, the educational relation is characterized by the protagonism of the person: the pupil has to create a project and teachers need to make available all the required instruments for its realization. In this phase, the student makes the experience of entrepreneurship, of generativity. In relation with the world, the student discovers the idea, does not invent it, but composes the idea; and the instruments made available by adults, help the student to transform the idea in a saleable project or product. This condition allows the student to discover the passion, the spark that makes a person become an entrepreneur. It is the rediscovery of the valor attributed to practical knowledge. The design thinking, namely the ideation of an object, creates the correct bond between reality and knowledge. In fact, it is the impact with a real problem, with experience, that makes the desire of knowledge and of intellectual speculation grow.
Research on Mentoring and Design Thinking
The Cambridge Dictionary states that mentoring is “the activity of supporting and advising someone with less experience to help them develop in their work1” . A slightly different definition is given by Kram (1985) and Levinson (et al. 1978): Mentoring is identified as a relationship between a younger, less experienced person (masc.: protégé, fem.: protégée) and an older, more experienced one (mentor). Career and adult development theorists describe mentoring as a process that has a great potential and effect on enhancing the individuals development (Dalton, Thompson, Price, 1977; Hall, 1976; Levinson et al., 1978). The relationship between mentor and protégé can be instrumental in supporting personal and professional growth (Clawson, 1979; Kram, 1985; Levinson et al., 1978; Philips-Jones, 1982). Levinson et al. (1978) affirm that, thanks to the relationship with the mentor, young adults are able to enter the world of work without serious problems and develop their identities easier.
Over the years, the definition of mentoring has been slightly modified, adding an important aspect: mentoring is a specific type of relationship that differs from other kinds of personal relations, because of being a developmental relationship. The Search Institute states that “a developmental relationship helps young people attain the psychological and social skills that are essential for success in education and in life. Young people can form these relationships with their parents and family members, with their friends and peers, with staff members in their schools and programs, and with caring adults in their neighborhoods and communities2” .
In addition, mentoring represents a fundamental form of socialization, which is able to change mentors and protégé in emotional, mental, spiritual and physiological manners (Chao, 2007). Furthermore, it is used as a teaching method because it increases academic achievement, promotes self-identity and self-confidence, reduces risky behavior, facilitates career development and lowers school dropout rates (DuBois et al. 2002; Jacobi 1991; Kram, 1985, Levinson et al., 1978).
The term design thinking has first been coined in 1987 by Rowe, using it as the title of his book. The first design thinking research was based on design and design methodology (Cross, Dorst, Roozenburg, 1992). Formerly, the studies regarding design thinking have been unrolled because the lack of understanding of designing processes was identified as a problem for design education (Karjalainen, 2012). Instead nowadays, the methodology is becoming always more popular in sectors such as IT, Education, Business and Medicine and even more models of design thinking have been developed.
Design thinking is identified as a formal methodology for creative and practical solutions for problems, with the intent to improve future results. It is a type of solution-focused or solution-based thinking, starting with an aim, instead of solving a problem. Moreover, it is defined as a paradigm for dealing with problems in various professional sectors.
In comparison with an analytic scientific methodology that starts with defining the problem’s parameters to develop then a solution, design thinking defines and investigates using ambiguous and known elements of current situations to then discover unknown aspects and create alternative ways that lead to the solution. In contrast to analytic thinking, the process of design thinking allows a brainstorming phase without/ with few limits. During this moment, ideas are “built up” and the participants’ fear of failure is reduced.
Mentoring and design thinking: mechanism
The methodology of mentoring is, as said above, based on a relationship established between a mentor and a protégé. It is to underline that every mentoring relationship is different from others and that it is never static, but evolves over time.
The relationship includes two main functions (Kram, Ragins, 2007). Firstly, the mentor offers the student a career function, which includes various types of behavior that support the pupil in “learning the ropes”. Among the different kinds of behavior the following skills are included: coaching, increasing positive exposure and visibility, and sponsoring the protégé’s advancement.
Secondly, the mentor provides a psychosocial function, which is based on intimacy, trust and interpersonal bonds. This helps incrementing the protégé’s personal and professional development. In addition, mentors offer friendship, counseling and role-modeling.
In every single relationship, mentoring functions vary regarding their degree: for example some include high career and low psychosocial functions, while other mentoring relationships may offer a low degree of career function and a medium level of psychosocial function, etc. The different levels of functions depend on the protégé’s needs and/ or the mentor’s abilities (Noe, 1988; Ragins, McFarlin, 1990; Scandura, 1992).
In 1983, Kram analysed 18 different mentoring relationships revealing four distinct phases: 1) initiation, 2) cultivation, 3) separation, and 4) redefinition. During the initiation phase some career functions may be given, but usually both functions are developed only in a second moment. In the cultivation phase, which is often characterized by interpersonal bonds, the relationship evolves from a one-way relation to relation based on reciprocity (Kram, 1985). The passage from phase 2 to phase 3 may have various causes: a) the environment disturbs the relationship’s equilibrium; b) the individual’s needs have changed; c) for physical or psychological reasons. Ragins and Scandura (1997) indicate that a relationship can fail also because of functional or dysfunctional psychological reasons; but most of the time it terminates because of physical separation. Only few mentoring relationships pass on to the fourth phase of redefinition, developing into friendships or peer relationships.
Design thinking is not the almost magic ability to create something from nothing. Instead it arises from the observation of reality and then, from the contemplation of what is around the creator. Contemplation is the passage from “simply looking at something” to “consciously observing something”. It is necessary that the person who is looking at an object recognizes that the object is not his/ her own, and that he/ she does not possesses it in its entirety, but that it is something given, something external to oneself. For an attentive human being everything can be a source of inspiration. It is possible to find all the required responses in the object’s environment and context, for example in places, in people and in small details. Responses do not exist in people’s minds, but the individual needs to educate its eyes and heart in order to identify them.
Another very important aspect of design thinking is that the creation does not end in itself, but it always has a destination and a recipient. Any gesture is made for someone and if it is not clear for who something is done, it is only a distracted gesture. Ideation and creation are part of people’s nature. Everyone has been created to generate ideas. And therefore it is essential to be taught how to create.
Before ideation, everyone needs to understand where he/ she is located, what the surroundings suggest about that specific place, and for who he/she creates something. The process of design thinking includes ethnographic observational techniques that are applied in order to create practical solutions. To generate this action, empathy is required because innovators need to understand the clients’ experiences.
Practice of mentoring and design thinking
Mentoring relationships usually exist on a voluntary basis and are unpaid. In a company, it is a semi-charitable relationship, because the more successful employee supports the new one, passing on important information and fundamental know-how. Many organization carry out formal mentoring programs, matching directly the mentor and the protégé and defining the duration of the commitment. Clutterbuck (2004), coined an acronym for mentors’ activities: Manage the relationship, Encourage, Nurture, Teach, Offer mutual respect, Respond to the learner’s needs.
Hunt and Michael (1983) offer a framework of this methodology that defines five categories of factors which influence the relationship: a) contextual and environmental factors, b) mentor’s characteristics, c) protégé’s characteristics, d) stages and duration of the mentoring relationship, and e) outcomes for mentor, protégé and the organization. This scheme helps to understand important dynamics of mentoring relationships.
Mentoring has many advantages for the protégé, for example that the activities are planned and developed to suit directly the protégé’s personal needs and learning styles. During the process of mentoring it is possible to concentrate on interpersonal skills, which in traditional environments may be transferred only with difficulty. Furthermore, protégés are provided with contacts and networks of the world of work in order to be assisted in future aspirations.
Generally, the process of design thinking can be divided into different periods. Brown (2009) identifies that innovators make use of design thinking moving through the following three phases (which can be passed more than once):
1. Inspiration (understand, observe, empathize, define the problem): Innovators deal with a problem or an opportunity, which makes them act. They gain an empathic understanding of the problem. Usually, experts are consulted to deepen the creator’s knowledge. It is useful to get to know also the problem’s physical environment in order to have a better understanding and higher empathy to set aside the innovator’s own assumptions. Then it is important to put together the collected information in order to analyze and synthesize them. In this way it is possible to define the core problem and a human-centered problem statement.
2. Ideation (ideate, prototype, test): Innovators are ready to generate their ideas by “thinking outside the box”. In this phase, new solutions are developed using different techniques such as brainstorming, brain-writing, “worst-possible-idea”. These sessions stimulate free thinking and help expanding the problem space. Afterwards, designers pass on to the realization of prototypes, which usually are inexpensive, scaled down versions of the product. In this experimental phase, it is necessary to identify the best possible solution that is then implemented within the various prototypes. The last step of this section is the testing of the innovators’ ideas.
3. Implementation (pilot, business model): During the third phase, innovators pass on to the creation of the product. A pilot phase is necessary to develop a business model, which is then presented to the client.
Mentoring and design thinking in the Cometa learning approach
In 2011, the educational model of Cometa Formazione was adopted for the first time in the Oliver Twist vocational training school. Its structure is not generated by a project, but by an observation of reality. It is an attempt of understanding the process of learning and working, including various steps. The aim of Cometa Formazione’s learning process is not to let students make a general work experience, but a very specific one. The objective is to educate people knowing how to get by in this world; to make people aware of their context, their limits, their abilities and responsibilities; to make them able to take decisions.
It is necessary to make the learning process explicit and therefore easier to evaluate by dividing it into (temporal) phases. That is why, Cometa Formazione’s educational model is divided into four phases (ideation, planning, realization, evaluation). Therefore it is easier to identify the various work processes, which cannot be diverted. These four macro-areas represent also the acquired abilities. During any kind of work everyone passes various phases of Cometa Formazione’s educational model.
Moreover, Cometa Formazione’s entrepreneurship education, which is based on the believe that it is necessary to start from reality in order to acquire knowledge, foresees various design thinking and mentoring activities. It is not a deductive method where teachers transmit ideas to students, which then are implemented. But it is an inductive method: students start from an element of reality, which is then conceptualized. This model is considered a strong incentive of entrepreneurship education, because knowledge needs to be mixed with the matter to change knowledge into passion. Otherwise, there is no knowledge but only information.
To create knowledge, teachers need to provoke a comparison between the student’s interests and reality. Entrepreneurship education includes a vision, a cultural principal, namely realism. Teachers need to make students obtain realism. It is not the idea itself that generates reality (first explanation then application), but the relationship between the person and the object that generates the idea. If the idea is created through the relationship with reality, the student is able to understand the idea’s origin. Moreover the pupil retraces the discovery of the idea’s origin and develops it by adding its own experiences.
Cometa Formazione, along its almost 15-years-experience, has developed a huge network of artisans and companies which have been and still are partners in the planning of training and internships. Both the number of companies and the level of their commitment with Cometa Formazione is increasing year after year, making possible a more and more coherent training needs assessment in line with the concrete needs of the economic local context; the same companies have been positively impressed by the program, encouraging students to apply for their opportunities of internship. Since 2014, 677 companies are partners of Cometa Formazione, operating in all the more relevant sectors in Como: handicraft, hospitality, textile, tourism. At the same time, partnerships include international companies such as Inditex Group (Zara and Bershka), IBIS Hotel, Gi.Group, DHL, Zurich Group Italia.
The learning approach at a glance
The educational proposal of the Oliver Twist School sees the world of work as the area in which cultural and professional development takes place. For students, work represents a positive force that makes them feel competent persons. Moreover, work makes students become protagonists, which strengthens their self-confidence. Through experience it is possible to rediscover or contextualized what has been assimilated as “theory”. The development of abilities and professionalism goes at the same pace as the development of students’ personalities. For these reasons, Cometa Formazione’s education model is based on real tasks: a methodology that brings students to accept positively their efforts done to reach a goal.
The described didactical model is based on project works and on educational unites. Starting from the abilities that need to be obtained by every single pupil, teachers design educational paths, which accompany students during their project realization. Students unroll typical work activities in order to acquire basic, transversal and technical-professional competences. The educational tasks of the working environment are planned not in a practiced manner, but following a holistic approach: students are introduced to the entire production chain to gain a complete vision, but also to discover their talents and preferences.
Furthermore, during the entire learning process transversal skills are transmitted to the students. These abilities are divided into two big sections: (a) professional/ technical competences and (b) basic skills, such as abilities referring to the administration of the product and the process (languages, history, public speaking, …), and promotional skills (mathematics, science, economy, …). Transversality means critical thinking, which is needed in every single moment during the learning process.
The educational model of Cometa Formazione divides the learning process in four different phases: 1. Ideation, 2. Planning, 3. Realization and 4. Evaluation, as in the figure below.
At the end of every section a product is being created: (a) a mood panel, (b) a project, (c) a product or event and (d) a report. The whole process is repeated twice a year. It is not a rigid model, but it depends on various factors, such as the class and the projects. Moreover, this learning process can be adapted to different sectors.
The scholastic year starts with the process of ideation, during which different activities are planned:
a) A tour of Cometa with the aim of introducing its world, also using the collection of photos and notes.
b) Various trips to places in the area of Como in order to discover the history and the geography of Cometa’s surroundings.
c) A meeting with older students who explain their experience with the client’s commission so younger pupils will understand its meaning.
d) An introduction to the creative method by watching a video and sample catalogues.
e) The creation of the book to collect and summarize the personal path.
It is necessary to understand the object’s context as much as possible. Therefore these activities are planned to help students being aware of where they are and of what Cometa means. Every product created in the Oliver Twist school has the Cometa brand.
Ideation (or design thinking) is a very important part of Cometa Formazione’s entrepreneurship education. Giving students the possibility to work on the ideation of a product and on their creativity represents an extraordinary opportunity. During this phase it is very useful to work on the student and on its subjectivity and protagonism. It is important to let students know that their opinions count and contribute in an original manner to the common construction. It is about active citizenship. Most of the time pupils do not believe in themselves and do not consider themselves as important. Therefore, it is necessary to show them that they give valor to the group. It is a strong method of entrepreneurship education.
The second phase regards the process of planning, which first of all corrects what was ideated during the first phase. The educator interferes thanks to his experience and helps the students in evaluating if their ideas are realizable in terms of costs, materials, market etc.
Moreover, this phase is not only based on technical terms but also on the way of being. Therefore, the companies transmit technical knowledge and abilities, whereas, the school has the task to teach men and women the right way of knowing how to get by in this world. Again, it is necessary to understand the best way to respond to the client’s needs on behalf of Cometa.
The third phase is about realization, that foresees manufacturing of the prototype chosen by the client. In this way, it is possible to present a realistic scale model during the following meeting. In case the client is satisfied with the prototype, students start realizing the products. Its duration depends on the specific work field. Shortly, it is the examination of the previous phase: if everything went as it was planned, the realization can be unrolled without problems; if not, the realization must be modified until the predicted results can be really produced.
The last phase regards evaluation, during which the whole educational process is evaluated. This phase is fundamental for having a judgment and measure of the educational path and its outputs. The complex of systematic and continuous observation carried out by teachers guarantees a tool for evaluating the formative programs.
Evaluation allows teachers and students, to reflect on the model and the process in order to develop possible critical issues. Furthermore, the evaluation of competences acquired in the working context takes place through constant monitoring and by analyzing the company’s feedback.
During the whole process the two relationships student-mentor and student-teacher are fundamental. On the one hand there is the teacher who acquires the “father role”: he is the one that puts reality in front of the student and tries to bring out the student’s truth, because the better you know yourself, the more you are able to ask. The educational relation is always based on the reliability on what the teacher transmits to the student. The pupil does not only check what is taught by the teacher, but also who the teacher is. Every teacher has his/ her subject, through which he/ she educates the student. For the pupil it is important to know, that the relation between him/ her and the educator becomes never the subject of the lesson.
On the other hand, there is the mentor, who gains the “mother role”. It is the one that makes the communication between student and teacher more human. The mentor is present during the whole learning process and helps the student organizing his educational program, adding for example more study hours in order to guarantee a better assimilation if needed. The mentor plans the pupil’s internship, the experience of the educational activity in order to let the student’s critical thinking abilities grow. Furthermore, the mentor supports the teacher in looking differently at the student and to better understand his/ her learning needs. It is a professional educator who does not tell students what to do, but explains who he is.
Both of these relationships are based on the link between two uniqueness’s. The teacher/ mentor (but also the student) must be conscious about being in front of a uniqueness. The teacher is meeting not only a student, but an I, which whom he needs to get in contact. The I is a “mystery”, something unknown, that enriches the teacher.
The main objective of the educational method “mentoring” is the creation of true relationships. In order to create those, the learning process designed by Cometa Formazione is based on the principle learning from doing. Cometa Formazione registered outstanding improvements regarding the students’ self-confidence and a more stimulating learning context. This kind of planning requires a remarkable team work, which is justified by at least four positive aspects:
1. Almost from the beginning, students produce concrete objects that external clients consider valuable. This process helps them to realize to be able to create something beautiful and precious.
2. Students use skills of basic subjects (English, Italian, mathematics, history) for realizing products and required documents. Therefore, subjects that seemed to be abstract and obscure become an experience because they are used during the realization of the students’ projects. This increases the interest for various subjects and enhances the relation between students and knowledge.
3. By adopting the model, students experience the communion of knowledge: every single subject contributes to the pupils’ personal and professional training and development. Understanding this bond is fundamental in order to generate the students’ interest for various activities proposed by the school.
4. The mentor stimulates the student by working in the same direction. The pupil feels comforted by being guided.
Thanks to adopting this specific educational model, Cometa Formazione obtained outstanding results: it is possible to observe students that overcome apathy and skepticism, and restart trusting an adult and develop a passion for something that happens at school. All this has a positive effect on their scholastic performance and improves also their didactic results. In fact, the establishment of a positive classroom environment permits to increase the level of the educational proposal, which again has positive outcomes for the students.
Results of education and training in Cometa have been positive and encouraging. On March 2016, the ETF Foundation gave an award to its method as one of the ten best European Programs for Entrepreneurship. Furthermore, according to the social impact analysis for the years 2015-2016, Cometa Formazione has generated several positive outcomes and impacts, including:
– 95% of students recognize their soft skills increased;
– 94% of dropout students completed their new career at Cometa;
– As an example, since 2012, more than 80% of former students in the catering branch got a stable employment and are no longer completely dependent from their families (average wage 910€ per month);
– Former students have an employment rate 8% higher than other VET schools in Italy.
At the time a new vocational programme is offered to students, it is also crucial to prepare teachers and mentors to change their teaching methodologies, to learn how to update their knowledge and to develop a growth mind-set attitude. Teachers, namely for VET organizations, often have a concrete experience in the various sectors of their specialization, nevertheless all these competences need to be regularly updated and adapted to the continuous changes of the market (Hiim, 2016); a new curriculum (“teacher as researcher”) has to be promoted.
To this extent it is essential to help educators in a regular activity of connection with the reality-in-change and in a lifelong learning and training based on their own practice.
This new approach requires not only to modify the pedagogic models in training future teachers, but, above all, a new environmental setting of the education and training organizations: a proactive approach to research and development of new contents, new didactic methodologies, new assessment tools is essential, as well as training teachers in main qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. Teachers need to be repositioned.
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