In today’s world, entrepreneurship is a hot field and career path. Research from New York University indicates that a large proportion of teens want to be business owners. With billionaire founders gracing the covers of magazines, shows like “Shark Tank” permeating society, and Donald Trump running for president, it’s no surprise that people’s interest in entrepreneurship is growing.
Despite the attention, entrepreneurship isn’t exactly what most people think it is. Simply put, entrepreneurship is a search process. It’s identifying problems, testing possible fixes, and manifesting solutions.
And getting this wrong in schools is not okay. If entrepreneurship in schools isn’t problem-based, student-driven, experiential, and peer-to-peer, then it isn’t entrepreneurship. If students aren’t challenged to navigate ambiguous circumstances, where the paths and outcomes are unknown, then it isn’t entrepreneurship. If it’s getting students to sell cupcakes or wash cars for a grade, then it isn’t entrepreneurship.
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Fortunately, there are forward-thinking educators out there who are embedding entrepreneurship in their schools, enabling students to learn and think and grow just like entrepreneurs in the wild.
The Met, a public school in Providence, Rhode Island, offers courses in entrepreneurship. These courses challenge students to think like entrepreneurs: to see problems as opportunities, to take action, and to solve problems creatively and collaboratively. Students from The Met have started real businesses and have consistently won business plan competitions throughout the country.
At Hawken School, a private school in Cleveland, Ohio, students in the entrepreneurship program engage real problems from real companies, later working to identify problems of their own to tackle. Students embrace customer discovery, validating that their problems and solutions are aligned. Ultimately, students present to business leaders and peers, with opportunities for students to apply for funding from local accelerators.
Harrison High School, a public school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, immerses students in the entrepreneurial process. Students are challenged to identify frustrations in their lives, to get out of the classroom and speak to others who may have the same frustrations, and to devise ideas to test as possible solutions. Throughout the course, students present their progress and discuss the lessons they’ve learned. Students leave this course transformed, now seeing themselves and their potential differently than when they started.
So what? Why should all educators care about entrepreneurship?
Here are two reasons:
One: entrepreneurship is well-aligned to the needs and drives of human beings.
Research indicates that people are highly motivated when they have opportunities to pursue interests they care about (autonomy), when they can execute tasks and accomplish goals (competence), and when they are interacting and connecting with others (relatedness).
Other scholarship highlights the importance of positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and achievement for human well-being. Unbeknownst to most, entrepreneurship taps into all of these.
People being entrepreneurial are intrinsically motivated and self-directed, exerting energy in service of initiatives they care about. To engage in entrepreneurship is to be optimistic, to be allergic to the idea of impossibility, and to be determined to create value for one’s fellow human beings. Such people are working to solve problems of all types, and they are striving to make the world a better place. As a result, entrepreneurs are happy people.
Two: the attitudes, behaviors, and skills developed through entrepreneurship are precisely those needed for professional success today and into the future.
At present, we’re not doing a great job preparing students for today’s work environments. In today’s world, there is an amazing mismatch between how prepared employers think students are and how prepared students think students are.
Moreover, the work world of the future may only somewhat resemble today’s. Almost two-thirds of youth today will work in jobs that don’t exist yet. Unfortunately, what education is currently doing in any sort of preparatory capacity is missing the mark.
As best we can tell, the skills employers are clamoring for today are the skills that will be needed in the future. And these skills also happen to be those that entrepreneurship yields. Teamwork, problem solving, communication, agency, empathy, time management, curiosity, analysis, critical thinking, creativity – these are the skills developed through the entrepreneurial process.
Entrepreneurship requires observation, action, and ideation. It requires experimentation, validation, and persuasion.
By engaging in entrepreneurial actions — and developing an entrepreneurial mindset — people cultivate entrepreneurial skills: the very skills predicted to be critical for professional success in the future.
“They start to own their own learning,” said Jodie Woodruff, Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (The Met), commenting on students who didn’t think they’d graduate. “You see the transformation right in front of you.”
This transformation is possible through the power of entrepreneurship.
Educators who are serious about reimagining education and redesigning high schools should pay attention.
Michael Crawford is the Director of Coaching, Courses, and Curriculum at Story2, a company using storytelling to help people navigate school, work, and life transitions. Previously, he worked at the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative and Kauffman Scholars. He is currently completing his PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Kansas.