Wit & Wisdom

Game Changers & Tales of Triumph and Woe

"Let's Raise Our Kids To Be Entrepreneurs"

CJW, September 15, 2010 10:19 PM


photo: Back Pocket COO
Prev. published June/2010

"We're Giving Them Ritalin & Saying To Them:
 Don't Be An Entrepreneur Type,
 Fit Into This Other System And Become A Student"

Video Below

By C.J. Westerberg

Cameron Herold is an entrepreneur and proud of it.  He also did not do well in school for a variety of reasons with the main one being how his ADHD manifestations were at odds with the expectations of the school "system".

We really think this TED video has some powerful messages that parents and educators may find both enlightening and disturbing on various levels.  Our rush to have kids fit into the increasingly standardized-tested-mold presently heralded by our policy-makers is NOT the best plan for the interests and future success of many of our most talented children.  There are unique strengths, interests and talents where one size does not fit all.

Herold points out how entrepreneurship is often viewed by education elites as something outside the purview of education.  He asks parents and teachers to be able to "find these kids with entrepreneurial traits" by being able to recognize the signs, and to help "foster this talent".  If one realizes that our country's economic health is driven by small business owners with the majority share of total jobs and revenue coming from small businesses, we may reconsider the short shrift given to the premise of entrepreneurship.  (Small businesses may grow to much bigger ones, some not.  Yet most all start with a dream and inherent risk, without the protection and benefits of a corporation or union.)

Herold also enjoys sharing some bold pronouncements, such as how "Bi-polar Disorder is nicknamed the CEO disease" and goes on to name a host of super-star CEO's with the disease, such as Apple's Steve Jobs, CNN founder Ted Turner, and Netscape founder Jim Barksdale.   

Now we all know this entrepreneurial drive is not correlated to a learning disability or disorder.  Yet entrepreneurs ARE different.   They just may not want to become college professors, corporate executives, or government policy administrators.   They have other dreams and passions.   They want to create something, march to their own drum, and/or run their own show.  (Let us not exclude the businesses and organizations who promote -- truly, in action, not in words -- "intrapreneurship" - the ability to act in nimble entrepreneurial ways while being a part of a much larger organization which is increasingly becoming a venue to innovation)

The point here is too many policy makers and ivory tower types are often quick to judge and label students  -- who may not just like school in its current mode  -- as having some kind of mental impairment or learning disability.   Warnings abound about how children not interested in "paying attention" need Ritalin or Adderall to help them focus on topics (they are not interested in) and to pre-empt a future life of substance abuse.  With warnings like these, such as one recent essay by Daniel Willingham in The Washington Post's Answer Sheet here,  why bother looking at the possible dysfunction of the school in its present structure, such as the elimination of recess and the arts?   Sir Ken Robinson addresses this issue head-on brilliantly here and with Mike Huckabee here, who posits that we've squeezed the life out of school with testing and myopic goals.

The other aspect of "entrepreneurs in school" is they display traits that are just "annoying" to the way things are expected in most school cultures:  tenacity, independence, the ability to handle failure, creative risk-taking and questioning authority ("why do we have to do this?").  Entrepreneurs are doers.  While we may talk about promoting these traits/skills in school, the students who display these characteristics, are probably found in the principal's office more often than the more compliant student.     

Don't let Herold's initial outburst about his "love of money" fool you into thinking he is completely soulless, because he does talk passionately about how entrepreneurs do what they do not because they don't fit in, but because they love to make things happen, do what they love, and to change lives (hopefully for the better).  We also think talking to kids about money is a good thing, too.   (I know, I know, talking education and money in the same sentence is like oil and water, ruining the "purity" of education).   He may sound flip (and is) about a few topics but it adds to the drama, and then later is self-critiquing on his blog here ("I was really nervous"). 

If you are short on time since this is a TED talk, check out the first five minutes and the last few for a provocative intro and wrap-up.  (The mid-section of his speech gives a host of examples of how kid-like entrepreneurial activities - with goals/tactics that may not be the best or most virtuous illustrations, but the big picture is the point of this post).   How about those social entrepreneurial activities that add to the greater good?  There are way too many entrepreneurs who build businesses for idealistic and altruistic reasons to be slighted here. 

Like his style or not, there are points that ring true.  It would be nice if he added "ethics" to the list of traits to be taught and admired on the lists he presents in the conclusion.

What's your riff on this?
Video below: 

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Autonomy-supportive teachers seek a student's initiative - whereas controlling teachers seek a student's compliance.
J. Reeve, E. Bolt, & Y. Cai

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