4 Entrepreneurial Skills We Should Be Teaching in Schools
"If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball" is the most memorable line from the 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. In the film, a kid fails to dodge the heavy steel projectile and gets nailed in the face; he falls to the floor writhing in pain.
For me, this is the perfect metaphor for the American educational system, with the wrench being the future students aren't prepared for.
But, it doesn't have to be this way. We can teach that kid, the ill-prepared student roaming the halls of the school in Everywhere, USA, to anticipate and learn to play -- to succeed. We can teach him to build platforms, create confidence, recognize patterns and win by failing. We can teach him entrepreneurship.
Beyond skills, the ability to think critically and creatively is what often separates the most successful from the average. They are learned platforms an individual can leverage to deliver value and outperform the competition. Blogs, vlogs and podcasts, on the other hand, are examples of platforms entrepreneurs use to reach potential customers. The idea is to combine the two types of platforms to influence the marketplace and make profit.
Schools already teach content creation, but it's often outside of the realm of useful -- kids do it for a grade and little else. What if we replaced English essays with compelling blog posts? Argumentative writing supported with evidence is already taught in high school English and could be applied to a blog. With teachers no longer being the sole audience, the effectiveness of the student's arguments could be judged by metrics such as engagement numbers, reader or viewer or listener comments, and eventually product/service purchases.
Kids know what they like but don't always know what they stand for. They are influenced by peers and media. Marketers have developed a set of strategies to sway their opinions. Psychologist Marc Andrews describes advertising techniques such as using attractiveness, humor, scarcity, fear, social proof, sex and subliminals in his book Hidden Persuasion: 33 Psychological Influences Techniques in Advertising -- all designed to influence and close the deal.
But, if a teen spends time branding herself, which involves reflecting on personal values and identifying who she truly is, she can become more self-aware and use this awareness to influence the world in positive ways. Then, she can create stories and products or services that are valuable, not superficial, because they are things she is passionate about and wants to share with the world.
Personal branding has other benefits, too. It builds confidence. It allows individuals to introduce themselves to the world and create a positive digital footprint, which is becoming essential in pursuing business and employment opportunities. Additionally, creating a personal brand differentiates one from the crowd and allows her to showcase skills and expertise.
Creating products or services
While startup failure statistics vary greatly depending on the criteria used to define failure, a CB Insights survey of 101 failed startups found the top reason for failure was creating products consumers did not want, with 42 percent of the companies naming this as one of the reasons. Product "pricing/cost issues" and "user-unfriendly product" were near the top as well.
Renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explained on The James Altucher Show that robots are "really bad at pattern recognition," a skill that is strictly human. For now. Armed with the knowledge artificial intelligence will stink at it for decades, we can teach pattern recognition in school. And while some of it is intuitive, a 2012 study concluded that expertise in a domain greatly improves intuition. The researchers also found individuals can be trained to recognize patterns when given a set of thoughtful criteria to use.
Thus, we can teach students to develop approaches they can use to create products and services people actually need. One such strategy is design thinking -- a human-centered design model developed by the Stanford d.school -- currently gaining popularity in K-12 education.
Experts say the willingness to start over from scratch is one of the key traits of successful entrepreneurs. This involves skills but also mindset -- the willingness to change products, adjust the marketing approach, shift industries or rebrand.
And this is an area in which American schools lack. While growth mindset has become part of educational jargon and is encouraged, many of the encouragers -- school teachers and administrators -- do not practice it. Failure is often final, as evidenced by the emphasis on test scores and grades. It is still uncommon for high school teachers to allow students multiple ways and opportunities to prove concept mastery. While NECAP has nothing to do with fixing torn menisci, STAR will not make your child popular among his peers and PAWS is not the title of the latest episode of Paw Patrol, every U.S. state participates in standardized testing, and a multimillion-dollar industry exists to get parents and students "ahead."
George Couros, a well-known educator and author, writes about the need for educational leaders to "make it clear that failure is an option" and teaching students that reflecting on failure and learning from it leads to "true growth" in his bestseller The Innovator's Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. As a successful entrepreneur himself, Couros recognizes that status quo education is lacking in its preparation of kids for the world of now.
Perhaps this excerpt from The Innovator's Mindset says it best: "If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past 'the way we have always done it,' and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves. This does not mean replacing everything we do, but we must be willing to look with fresh eyes at what we do and ask, 'Is there a better way?'"
Teaching entrepreneurship in schools is one way. It will help students gain transferable skills they can use to play the career game well, no matter what the future throws at them. Undertaking the entrepreneurial journey early on will prepare them for this game. They'll still get hit by a ball here and there. But, they will always dodge the wrench.