A handful of business-oriented schools are starting to offer their students an experiential exercise that teaches the difference between entrepreneurial thinking vs. managerial thinking. The exercise is called “Puzzles and Quilts.”

Here’s how it works:

A group of students are split into teams of about 5 or 6. All teams are instructed to go into separate rooms where a jigsaw puzzle box awaits. The only instruction is to finish the puzzle quickly—it’s a competition between teams. At intervals of every 2-3 minutes, one person at a time is plucked from each room to go to an open room where they are told to build a quilt from scratch with different pieces of fabric, essentially combining irregular patches of fabric with little or no regard to pattern or design. The only instruction is to build the “best” quilt you can. Each student can join whichever group he or she wants depending on whichever quilt stands out to him or her. So the students start joining teams and haphazardly creating quilts and building off of each other’s work.

The difference between the two tasks is stark and apparent to most students.

The majority of students usually say that they prefer the puzzle exercise. Why? Because completing the puzzle gives them structure and rules and order and known variables. It’s a linear task: You can plan; you have all the resources you need at your fingertips (puzzle pieces and a picture of the puzzle) to complete the goal; you can strategize (separate the pieces by color then find the edges and go from there); you can assign people to do certain tasks; you can analyze the situation and then make decisions that will yield the intended results (a completed puzzle).

Less students like creating the quilts. Why? Because there is no structure, goals are ambiguous, the process is chaotic, and the final outcome is uncertain. Students don’t know what “build the best quilt” even means and struggle with that ambiguity. How do you define best? At least with the puzzle, you know what success means.

The exercise is a great lesson on what it means to be a managerial thinker (analyze, plan, execute towards a very specific goal) versus an entrepreneurial thinker (act based on what you have at hand and what you know—which inevitably creates opportunity—learn from your actions, act again in smarter, more empowered ways, and co-create with others).

One of the most important learnings for students is that they learn to let go of the limitations of what a quilt has to be and how you can create it. That is to say, if you didn’t have any limitations on what type of quilt you might create, how would you act? After all, a quilt is not just for a bed; it’s also considered art—some quilts are hung on walls as pieces of artwork; in the dark days of slavery in the U.S., slaves used quilts to signal routes to escape.

Read over the above section of this article again. Everything here applies to your dating life.quote

There’s a time to be both a manager and an entrepreneur in your dating life.

Some dating situations call for planning, strategizing, and executing to reach a goal(s). For instance, I work with clients on creating realistic goals they can move towards in their dating lives, and then we figure out an action plan to help get them there (getting set up on an online dating site with great photos and an awesome written profile; joining new organizations; doing three to four new activities a month; shooting for one to two dates a week; talking to one new person in your network each week about set-ups; and so on and so forth).

Other situations, however, call for more entrepreneurial, creative thinking. Once you’re in the thick of dating (going out with men, having different experiences, experimenting with new ideas and possibilities for your love life, etc.), you are operating in a very uncertain, unknowable world, where, often times, rules and structure are too limiting. These are the times that call for entrepreneurial thinking and action.

An example of an entrepreneurial dating mindset comes from my client Tina, a smart, successful, 37-year-old-doctor. She met a man on Match and went out on a date. Although they determined they weren’t right for each other, Tina told the guy that her sister might be a better match. The guy called her sister, they went out, and are now a couple. This expands Tina’s network (and, needless to say, she helped her sister find love). She has now potentially created an opportunity to meet someone more compatible through this new guy.

Tina also met a guy at a BBQ, but he seemed a bit shy and left the party early. While she could have analyzed and played by the rules (“Well, guys are supposed to be the ones to reach out to a woman first”), she instead stepped outside the box, outside society’s arbitrary limitations and tracked down the guy’s email address. She sent an email and he replied that he was going away on vacation but they should get together when he returns. Who knows what will happen, but Tina learned that she could simply take action, learn from her action (it’s OK for a woman to make the first move!), and from this action she creates a new opportunity for her love life.

With the entrepreneurial mindset, the answers to your dating life questions and dilemmas emerge over time, through thoughtful trial and error; they emerge as you really start to observe yourself and reflect on your situations and how you might start thinking outside the box. This mindset then allows you to take action in new and different ways—you are operating fromquote 2 a conscious, empowered place instead of blindly following generic rules. Which, in turn, inevitably creates new possibilities and opportunities for your dating life that you may never have come up with if you were just operating by rigid rules or structure on what to do, say, and think (this is how many coaches operate).

Sure, I have some basic fundamental ideas/concepts (“rules” I suppose) that I give to clients about dating, but for the most part, I am not a rules person (tools not rules!). Instead, I work alongside my clients to help them discover their own rules—ideas that work for them and those that don’t. I teach them not what to think (Neely says “do this, don’t do that”) but how to think for themselves. This mindset serves them better: They feel empowered; they begin trusting in themselves; they begin owning who they are and what makes them tick. That all translates to a feeling of being at peace and to confidence—and that’s what men love!

I understand that many seeking dating advice want a quick, black-and-white system of rules (i.e. the book “The Rules”—yuck!). Some coaches offer those “systems.” I’m not one of them. Ultimately, I want my clients to be the facilitator of their own change (with guidance and support from me). These are the women with whom I work best and the women who, in my experience, create what they want to create in their lives.

So figure out when you need to be a manager in your dating life and when you need to step into the entrepreneurial mindset. Ultimately, you learn how to cycle back and forth between the two, depending on the situation. Do I need to be a manager in my dating life right now with this situation (creating a plan and holding tight to important boundaries, for instance) or do I need to be more creative and entrepreneurial, thinking outside the box and my self-imposed limitations?

Ultimately, you learn how to define your dating world for yourself rather than be defined by it.

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