Education as a Metaphore for Entrepreneurship

I recently watched a TED talk by “education and creativity expert” Ken Robinson who discussed the 3 principals crucial for the human mind to flourish — and how current education culture works against them.  As I watched, I realized that much of what Mr. Robinson was saying about the challenges of our American system of education also applies to how communities, economic development agencies, angel investors, venture capitalists, and bankers view (and treat) entrepreneurs.  The talk was titled “How to escape education’s death valley” and can be seen here:  http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.html

The three principals are:

  1. Human beings are naturally different and diverse.
  2. Curiosity drives human life flourishing.
  3. Human life is inherently creative.

For the first principal, Mr. Robinson asks the parents in the audience that if they have two children or more, he would bet that the children are completely different from each other.  It’s true.  No two kids are alike.  However, he states, education in the U.S. is based on conformity, not diversity.  Schools are encouraged to find out what kids can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement, i.e., standardized tests.

I have met many entrepreneurs over the past several years and no two have been alike.  In fact, no two have had the same goals, dreams, or aspirations.  One question then is; is our community’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, like our community’s educational structure, based on conformity instead of diversity?  An entrepreneur who starts a coffee company to support a local arts program for developmentally disabled individuals is every bit as relevant as a tech startup creating a new Smartphone app.  Yet our community’s “ecosystem” tends to view the coffee entrepreneur as a charity because the only measure of achievement are the standardized tests; return on investment, cash flow, quarter to quarter profitability.  Not adding value to someone’s life through art (or by employing some of the disabled clients of the program).

According to Mr. Robinson, the second principal that drives human life flourishing is curiosity.  “If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance.”  He then discusses education and teachers and whether a child is actually learning, and the role of testing.  While these things should support learning they often obstruct it.  So instead of curiosity we have a culture of compliance.  Routine algorithms instead of imagination and curiosity.

How many times has someone said to us “I’ve got a great new way to…” and we immediately think of all the reasons it won’t work.  It won’t fit into the system, the existing process, the existing culture.  Our cities and counties are like that.  Investors and banks are like that too.  Too often we are looking for the path or plan that has been proven, already done.  Yet the world continues to change and that path already taken is no longer relevant.

Finally, creativity.  One of the roles of education is to awaken and develop the powers of creativity.  Instead, what we have is a culture of standardization.  The “high performing” societies, in terms of education, individualize teaching and learning.  They recognize that it’s the students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity.  So too with entrepreneurs and the many incubators, accelerators, mentoring programs, competitions, grants, and other well intentioned programs in our communities.

To quote Mr. Robinson:  “So I think we have to embrace a different metaphor. We have to recognize that it’s a human system, and there are conditions under which people thrive, and conditions under which they don’t.  We are after all organic creatures, and the culture of the school is absolutely essential. Culture is an organic term, isn’t it?”

The question then is:  “What is the culture of our community in terms of how it embraces or stifles entrepreneurs?”

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  1. #1 by Watsonia on May 28, 2013 - 1:35 pm

    At Last. . .By George, I think you’re getting it. Yes! Yes! Yes! Huge fan of Sir Ken Robinson. Now add Dr. Peter Senge Ph.D, Meg Wheatley Ph.D., Kenneth Block, Ray Jorgenson and you have the making for a superior Innovative Social and Business Entrepreneurialship foundation that is desperately needed today. Good work ole boy.

    Watson here

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