I like to think we’re hard wired to forge our own path and build things.
Imagine for a moment, your life as a child, untainted by education and experience. You built with blocks, you played through your imagination, and drew pictures – You were an entrepreneur. Only as you got older did you, as does everyone, turn to games, passive entertainment, and task based work instead of imagining and building.
School forces entrepreneurship out of us. Not on purpose but out of necessity. Educational institutions must standardize (to some extent) in order to grade, credential, and qualify. Teachers can’t possibly teach to different skill levels and learning styles. They may disagree with me, and they certainly try, but it just can’t be done. I have kids in 2nd grade and I’m already frustrated not just for my kids but others who are either far ahead of the curve, behind the curve, or destined for something other than formal education dictates (artists, athletes, etc.). But education can only serve a norm so those who are ahead get bored, those who are behind get attention, those who are creative are labeled, and everyone gets disillusioned.
It gets worse: we get in to college with the belief that a diploma means a career and that a career means a job – working for someone else. The problem with that perception is that it isn’t true so people are further disillusioned when they learn that their $100k diploma isn’t worth much more than a telemarketing job. Usually.
Education teaches us to stop learning, stop innovating, and work for someone else.
Consider your economy (not to presume that you live in the U.S. where I live) 100 or 200 years ago. Everyone was an entrepreneur. I’d like to offer that the idea that entrepreneurship is hot right now is misleading; entrepreneurship is in demand because people are fed up with the way we’ve been working for the last 75 years. We’ve created economies in which we expect someone else to create opportunity (corporations, government, etc.) – that they’ll take care of us, that they’ll provide the jobs. Here’s the rub: that has never worked – companies go out of business, downsize, and pivot – governments are wasteful and stagnant. We put our faith in them to create opportunity?!
100+ years ago people were tailors, inventors, farmers, haberdashers, merchants, plumbers, carpenters… everyone was an entrepreneur who had to start their own business. Yes, entrepreneurship ‘is hot right now’ but (and I didn’t mean to suggest that it isn’t, rather…) entrepreneurship was once everything there was – THAT was when it was hot.
Stop thinking that entrepreneurship and startups are fully comprised in the 1% of our economy that result in cool tech startups that capture our attention with their billion dollar valuations. People that work for themselves are entrepreneurs and we’ve lost our way. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur because we’re striving to find our way back.
From Gumballs to Lightbulbs
Tie a thread around all of these thoughts and consider what was different then from now… education. Heck, 60 years going to college wasn’t considered the only way to go. 200 years ago, it wasn’t a way to go for most people. We once had trade schools (skills schools) that taught people how to make a living as an entrepreneur. Those are starting to emerge again but our challenge is that the stigma now exists that you have to go to college or you are somehow incomplete. The fear exists that if you don’t go to college, you can’t earn a tremendous living as an entrepreneur.
Society has to embrace the downside of education and appreciate once again that what we were as children is a reflection of who we really want to be.