Entrepreneurial Thought & Action: Len Schlesinger, President of Babson College

By Len Schlesinger, President of Babson College

Looking at the program and content of the upcoming Rethink Music conference, it strikes me that Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® (ET&A) —the method developed at Babson College for taking action in an uncertain and unpredictable world—is especially relevant for the music industry. It’s a method based on extensive research of how entrepreneurs actually behave…and succeed.

Why is the music industry in need of ET&A?The classic model for recorded music production and distribution is long gone and there are all sorts of possibilities on what will take its place. Clearly, no dominant model has been established. The large players in the industry are continuing to play defense in the hope that somehow they will be able to reclaim their  “rightful” place in the music business much in the same way that Kodak tried to protect film and other companies tried to protect light bulbs.

One of the first principles of ET&A is “Don’t worry about those who are playing defense; start thinking about what offense looks like.”Here’s what we know:Entrepreneurs start with an opportunity and act as quickly as they can with the resources they have. They don’t deal with uncertainty by trying to analyze it or plan for every contingency. They look for “good enough” solutions, not necessarily what is optimal. Taking a first step enables them to reflect on that action and to learn from it. Taking another step provides new data for taking further action. Act, learn, build, repeat. We call these the tools of smart action.

The example of a recent Babson graduate comes to mind. Jamie Kent is a singer-songwriter who is using smart action to pursue a career in music. Jamie was committed to make his way in music, but had no resources to do it. So he developed a business model that went beyond performing and recording. Essentially what he did was syndicate his music business:he built a network of his most loyal fans, friends, and advisors who provide financial support and creative consultation in return for free access to exclusive cuts of his music, live performances, merchandise, and a voice in his major career decisions.

Jamie took smart steps:instead of dealing with the economics of getting into the business he decided to syndicate enough capital among friends to get started, and got started in a way that allowed him to experiment with a variety of different models. Now he has a second record coming out, tours in the works, and seems extraordinarily happy.

These same smart tools are available to anyone who aspires to have a career in music. What’s important is to start. You can analyze the industry until kingdom come:the issues are strikingly complex, and the answers are not clear. The only way the answers are going to emerge is by taking action that will enable you to process the next step.

I’ll be exploring smart action in much greater deal at the Rethink Music conference and look forward to what promises to be a terrific event.


Len Schlesinger became President of Babson College in 2008 after serving as Vice Chairman and COO of Limited Brands. He also spent over 20 years teaching at Harvard Business School, where he led MBA and executive education programs and was architect and chair of Harvard Business School’s MBA Essential Skills and Foundations programs. He is author or co-author of eleven books, including Just Start:Take action, Embrace uncertainty, Create the future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). At Babson he has led a strategy of broadening the method for teaching entrepreneurship—Entrepreneurial Thought & Action®—extending the context through Entrepreneurship of All Kinds®, and taking Babson’s pedagogy to the world. In 2011, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities named him the Most Entrepreneurial University President in the U.S.