Youth is Wasted on Youth….An Entrepreneurial Perspective

This morning, I visited my Twitterverse and one of my trusted sources and fellow follower Mr. Michael Crawford (Real World Scholars) had posted this article “The Importance of Entrepreneurship in School Curriculum.” I thought the article was a great conversation starter around the reasons all schools, no matter what format or focus, need to have their ears to the tracks and be responsive to entrepreneurial youth skill-set, mind-set development.  This is my follow-up to my post and I hope it sparks conversation and more importantly ACTION.

I hate to talk about entrepreneurial benefits in any way that makes entrepreneurial work within education seem like an add-on.  Why?  Because add-ons are optional, our system is overburdened with them, and the add-on approach to school development is akin to a ship collecting barnacles or our refrigerators collecting magnets and family pictures.  Eventually, add-ons weigh down the host.  When I consider the scope of our US-based K12 education system, it seems we’ve done little more than continue to treat education as a place to add on an endless set of options this or that group feels is important.  Folks, our schools are full.  The model of continuing with add-ons has to stop and I don’t want to send any message that states I feel entrepreneurism should be another add-on.  So, with that context, I’ll send my message.  Entrepreneurism should be core!  Not an add-on.  Why?

Ego Check!

We’ve all experienced the realities of youth egocentric behavior.  There is a prevailing mental model of youth that the ego needed for growth doesn’t turn off and leads to ego-centric teens and ego-centric adults.  There are tenants of entrepreneurism requiring confidence, self-reliance, sure-footedness, and laser-focus.  From the outside, those may seem like ego.  But there’s a distinction.  Entrepreneurism brings about solutions for others, solves problems others can not, seeks answers to other’s troubles, worries and progress inhibitors.  In my experience, employees are more often than not rich with ego.  It often comes from over confidence in their security and roles within organizations driven by weak vision exchanged for high dollars.  Entrepreneurs however must deal every minute with how they are helping others. If they don’t, they won’t survive. Granted, there are plenty of ego driven entrepreneurs just as their are employees who care passionately about those they work to serve.  Remember, I’m presenting a perspective in a way to get us thinking…to spark thoughts we often have to deal with emotions.  Oh yeah, our egos!  In my entrepreneurial ecosystem, what I see are entrepreneurs who have pushed aside destructive ego and moved to action.  I think that’s a lesson all youth need as CORE.

There’s no reason for a lot of what we teach without a connection to products and services.

I feel like we know this, but we don’t seem to want to embrace it.  We like to say “we’re preparing kids for the future.”  Ahh, what does that mean?  Job? Work?  Life?  Sure, all of that.  And for each, what is central?  Seeing problems and opportunities. Yes.  Solving problems, designing solutions, products and services.  Yes.  This is why I see entrepreneurism  as a core way of being rather than a business management topic or activity to be assigned.

Who’s Responsible?  Ecosystems Are. 

After talking with schools over the last six years, I’ve learned that K12 schools should not be asked, nor are they in the position to take youth entrepreneurism on alone.  As I stated above, they are bombarded with add-ons every day.  New state or national regs and local groups attempting to get schools to single-handedly be the care-takers of growing entrepreneurial youth aren’t the answer.  Enter Ecosystems.  Ecosystems are mechanisms that unite local, regional and even national resources (such as Real World Scholars) in the efforts to build core entrepreneurial competencies.  Locally, I’m partnered on VISIONEURS-PA, our efforts to build a specific youth entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Ecosystems exist for adults, but few for youth.  Why?  It goes back to the school is everything mentality.  Schools are expected to provide ALL education.  The more we count on that, the less likely we’ll build an entrepreneurial nation.

Ecosystems can be responsible for youth entrepreneurial development because the end result is truly focused on solving big problems and making life better.  They are made up of groups, companies, service agencies, individuals, investors and charity organizations that believe in the power of entrepreneurial spirit.  Yes, we need students with essential literacy, behavioral, scientific and creative skills.  We need schools to do that good work.  As we think about applying those skills, the more we can make entrepreneurial core, those lessons gain more meaning.  The ecosystem can then be there to support the work that we can’t add-on to schools.  While some schools have cleared away enough clutter and created entrepreneurial cultures within, many can not and will not.  In those cases, the ecosystem can offer out of school supports at the community level.  When I think about those services, I think of prototyping, product testing, commercialization, business structure development, and a host of other real-life business supports.  Ecosystems add capacity to our schools.  That’s the key.  As we expect more from educational entities, we must be willing to help build those capacities.

Love to hear your thoughts.  I know this is somewhat polarizing.  And in no way is anything here meant as a dig to schools.  We’re in this together and we have to realize capacity building is needed.





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