Should we promote entrepreneurship in schools?
It all sounds wonderfully inspiring, students being urged to consider the path of the entrepreneur: the innovator. The glamorisation of highly successful tycoons, from Richard Branson to any of the Dragons, is awfully alluring. But perhaps we should be careful what we wish for. The reality of entrepreneurship hardly gets a mention. Yes of course, we hear of the difficulty of making it, and the numerous rejections an entrepreneur will face along the way, and even the incredibly despairing statistics of the number who succeed versus the failures, but even these aren’t really warnings, more like varnished anecdotes used to inspire rather than make wary. Perhaps we should paint a more accurate picture of the road ahead, a road littered with depression and dejection as one finds oneself in a dog eat dog world of trying to push your product into the market. Contrary to Casely-Hayford’s hopes, having a useful product is hardly a guaranteed entry. The market has become dominated by massive marketing budgets and ruthless sales agents. If you don’t fall into either of those two categories, you’re basically pushing sh.. uphill. You simply can’t get your product into the eyes of the consumer. Add to that the enormous financial risk the entrepreneur takes to get the ball rolling. Loans, borrowing, or even getting funding, all place great pressure on the success of the product. Such pressures have destroyed many a family along the way, and if we consider once again the shocking odds in your favour of succeeding or failing as an entrepreneur, perhaps this should be a starting point of any advertisement for the push for entrepreneurship in schools. Of course that would make the situation ridiculous, but that’s my point exactly.
I understand the notion that employability is changing, and that having an entrepreneurial mindset is a weapon in such a context, but if we are going to travel down this path of encouraging students to become such thinkers, it is imperative that we teach them to understand that it takes a lot more than just a good idea to make a success out of it. We have to teach them about establishing a team to cover all aspects of the journey, and we have to teach them about how to handle rejection, and possible financial insecurity as a result. The extolling of the notion that failure is inherent in the game of startups, and that it is simply an important aspect of the journey of paving the way to success needs far more scrutiny. In fact, it would be grossly irresponsible for a teacher to not define and make clear what failure realistically correlates to, and that it’s not as easy as it’s made to appear to get back up and start again.
You might think that I’m against promoting entrepreneurship in schools, but I’m not. The promotion of problem solving is indeed one of my central tenets in teaching. But being on the entrepreneurial road myself right now, I think it is very important to share a more realistic picture of the journey to students. Myles O’Reilly’s image below provides a realistic representation of the emotional journey of the entrepreneur, and i think that if we are going to encourage students to become more entrepreneurial, then as educators we need to not gloss over or glamorise the ‘swamp’. Even if I make it with my product (and I will), it won’t diminish the message and relevance of this post.
Paul Moss is a teacher, and the founder of The Homework Degrumbler