“Every child is an entrepreneur”

by Daniel Batten on August 17, 2010

Every child is an entrepreneur.

School manages to squander our entrepreneurial urges, intuitions, and inclination … pretty ruthlessly.

That’s why a lot of entrepreneurs are also rebels. Its not because these qualities have to go together, its because the entrepreneurs had to rebel in the face of 12 years of schooling in order to keep their entrepreneurial instincts in tact. The ones who were insufficiently rebellious often lost their entrepreneurial instincts early on.

School was in fact designed to stop people thinking for themselves. (Have a look at the origins of the Prussian Schooling System – the system the world inherited if you are interested in how this came about). So it should come as no surprise that by the end of 12 years schooling, most people are prepared to settle for working in an office-job, even though according to the latest job satisfaction surveys, only 45% of workers now enjoy their work (down from 61% in 1987).

School is highly successful at teaching us

1. to replace the internal joy of learning with an external rewards-based system. (Grades in school, which becomes salary in the workplace). The language here should give us a hint: people are paid “compensation”. “Compensation” means making amends for some loss, lack or suffering.

2. to sit down and endure long periods hearing things which have no apparent relevance to us, until we stop questioning the need for this

3. to endure long periods of physical and creative inactivity

4. to stop thinking in an interconnected way, and start thinking only between rigid subject lines.

5. Asking other people for help = cheating

6. Writing is important, but speaking is not.

7. Getting the right answer is important – asking the right question is not.

Along the way, most people also learn to fear failure, embarrassment and non-linear thinking (ie: the 3 most common enemies of entrepreneurial success).

As a former teacher of Maths and English, I am to this day perplexed at the needless information about language, Math and Science and many other subjects we train our kids in. Unless these kids go on to be college professors, much of it has no relevance to them. The answer we were taught to retort at training college that “these things encourage abstract thinking” is an after-the-fact justification. There are much better ways to teach abstract problem solving and they bear little resemblance to what we learn in school.

As a business mentor, I see person after person who has to be retrained to think as an entrepreneur again. Most of this work involves breaking down the ceilings that school placed in the way of success; and re-instilling an entrepreneurial mindset and ability to use your creative thinking centre and act without paralysing fear again.

Let me give a practical example of how most people approach business in the completely wrong way as a result of their education:

1. A would-be entrepreneur sets up a business and asks for advise.

2. They get told they need to learn about managing finances, customer relationship building, backend-systems, distributions, sales, blah blah blah

3. They believe this message, do a bad job of learning these things, forget their passion that brought them to business in the first place, and end up working long hours doing things they don’t enjoy.

This thought-process is the reason that 80% of businesses fail, and much the remaining 20% are profitable only through overwork and sacrifice to other areas of life. And this sort of thought-process is only possible once a person’s  creative-thinking ability has been completely broken.

An entrepreneur has a different mindset. They will say to themselves “How can I keep doing what I’m great at, and build a team around me that love what they do too?”

Because they are not afraid of failure but understand that they must fail many times to get anywhere, they stop talking and start trialing a product on the market – getting feedback each time.

Because they did not learn to fear embarrassment, they will ask other people for help – people who will help them to win, because they know they can’t do it alone. They will wonder what is the right question to ask whenever they appear stuck – and will not have lost confidence in their ability to generate the right question that will help move them ahead. Often, the right question might look like “How can I attract the winning team I need, even before I have the financial resources to pay them?” or “How can I get my prospective customers to buy my product before its been created?” or “How can I get investment without losing control of my company?”

Rather than learn all the things they don’t like (sales, systems, finances etc) they will ask others to do these things. Finally, because the true entrepreneur has not lost the ability to speak in a compelling way, they will understand people enough to inspire them to want to join their business – even if they are unable to pay what each person is worth today.

The only other two types of people I have met who has made it through school and become a successful entrepreneur despite their schooling was

1. someone who has consciously unlearnt the lessons school instilled (I put myself in this category – as I was not an out-and-out rebel at school)

2. those who come from an entrepreneurial family that provide a strong enough counter-education to overcome the powerful anti-entrepreneurial education we get at school.

So if you were neither a rebel, nor had a family where entrepreneurship was respected and talked about, and you want to be an entrerpreneur – my very strong counsel is to learn how to think as an entrepreneur again. Fortunately this is possible. Because truth, and the human spirit can never be broken.

The 3 core elements are learning how to overcome the fears of failure, embarrassment, and linear thinking by re-engaging your ability to

1. celebrate apparent failure as a milestone to a better outcome

2. get over your fear of appearing foolish, and relearning how to speak as a coherent and inspiring human being who can influence people again

3. think creatively in a world where the secret is not to know the right answer, but to intuitively know the right question to ask.

Once you can do that, you are an entrepreneur once more, and you are unlikely to be a statistical casualty of a failed businesses.

Because every child is an entrepreneur. Our challenge is to re-become one when we grow up.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Shaleen Shah August 17, 2010 at 10:47 pm

Thank you Daniel for this wonderful article. I have felt the same about my public education I received in the USA. But to be fair, I’ve seen a lot more creativity, ingenuity, and inventiveness from Kiwis than I have in the States.

If you know of a better approach to an education system, do share.

Daniel August 18, 2010 at 11:16 pm

There are other approaches that are improvements for sure – but mostly incremental improvements. The movement is growing for revolution, not evolution in the schooling system. Check out Sir Ken Robinson on ted.com. I also visited one of the new schools the Art of Living has set up in India – and it was inspiring. Run on the principles of
1. dance, music, taekwondo, satsang, sadhana were given equal status to core subjects
2. fear-free learning
3. respect and keep in tact a child’s natural desire to learn, rather than replace it with an extrinsic reward-based grading system from the get-go.
4. let a child do its homework because it is inspired to, and make sure that teaching occurs in an inspiring way
5. teach children do be active members of a society and nurture their leadership ability – don’t just stuff their heads with information.

Of course, eventually they had to sit exams, and when they did they performed in the 99th percentile for all schools in India, which should come as no surprise, as they were utilizing education methods which activated the pre-frontal cortex of the brain.

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