The Ice House program takes its name from an everyday problem facing the residents of Mississippi: summer heat. Today, getting ice is as easy as walking over to the dispenser in our kitchens. In the early 1900s though, customers made frequent trips to their local ice houses to buy ice in 25- or 50-pound blocks.
Solving the problem of keeping food cold during sweltering Southern summers didn’t take a degree in rocket science—or much formal education at all. Yet, it allowed industrious entrepreneurs to create value for others. Cleve Mormon, the proprietor of an ice house in Glen Allan, Mississippi, transformed that opportunity into a steady business that inspired his nephew and, eventually, thousands of people all over the world through the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative’s Ice House Programs.
A Legacy Worth Remembering
One of the things that people find so relatable about Mormon’s story is its simplicity. Technically, he was an entrepreneur by the dictionary definition—a person who organizes and operates a business or several businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks to do so. But what he did goes beyond that. He took ownership over his actions, showed reliability, focused on his customers, practiced resourcefulness, applied critical thinking, and followed through. In short, he had an entrepreneurial mindset.
Cleve Mormon helped inform ELI’s definition of entrepreneurship as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. By creating value for others, we empower ourselves.
If we are to apply the entrepreneurial approach to our daily lives, we must start by solving everyday problems. That means approaching frustrations and unmet needs as potential opportunities. And rather than complaining or accepting the status quo, the entrepreneurial mindset asks: How can I solve this problem? How many other people have this problem?
These questions alone are enough to showcase the power of embracing an entrepreneurial mindset. The question, then, is how?
Never Stop Learning
Over the years that ELI has been researching entrepreneurs, we have found that they tend to embrace self-directed learning opportunities, meaning that they choose their own paths, set their own goals, and follow up with experts and other resources to get the information they need.
To bring the most value to our lives, even outside of business or professional pursuits, we must constantly learn new approaches to problems and discover what our environments need that we can play a role in providing.
Learning to solve problems is part of the entrepreneur’s journey, and there is no learning without asking questions.
The questions we ask ourselves determine the directions our thoughts take. We can guide our thinking by asking ourselves questions that elicit responses that help move us forward.
For example, rather than accepting an unfortunate situation at face value, we might ask, “What can I learn from this?” or maybe, “How can I make this better for others?” It sounds simple—and it can be—but it’s the way entrepreneurs see the circumstances around them and respond creatively.
Start Before Figuring It All Out
With a wealth of information at our fingertips 24/7, it’s easy to believe that we need to have all the answers before moving forward with our ideas.
The paradox is that people are prone to get trapped in “analysis paralysis”. That is looking at all the possibilities and trying to line up every step of the journey before they get started. That just isn’t how an entrepreneur thinks.
For example, veteran and long-time entrepreneur Patrick L. Hughes Sr. recently joined the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative for an interview. He revealed that he beat out AT&T for a major consulting contract in 2003 without even knowing the meaning of the word “overhead.”
This is Not Just for the Business World
Perhaps the most poignant illustrations of this come from outside the business world. Judy Raper, the Associate Dean of Community Engagement at Greenfield Community College in Massachusetts, would not have seen herself as a community-changing entrepreneur. And then, after 32 years in student affairs, she had the transformative experience of attending one of our Ice House facilitator training programs.
Raper has taken what she learned there far beyond building businesses and teaching classes. It fits into the realm of her personal life’s work: sobriety. She brings an entrepreneurial mindset to prospective GCC students who are recovering from drug use.
Raper said she has witnessed life-changing insights take hold. One student went from dealing with serious health risks and having no plans for her future to working with partner organizations to create a sober house for women and children.
This training has now created a ripple effect, and Raper has dedicated herself to getting as many leaders as possible trained in the Ice House so [they] can infiltrate the region with this thinking.
Yes, learning to think like an entrepreneur will help you to run a successful business. But much more than that, it will equip you to lead in ways you never thought you could and to overcome even life’s most difficult challenges.