It is too bad that entrepreneurship is called entrepreneurship! It is such a long word: difficult to spell, difficult to pronounce, and very difficult to explain to children. But it’s important for children to know that being an entrepreneur is a viable and even desirable career option, and important to our society that this path is considered by our children and young people.
As someone who has been a salaried employee all of my life, and the daughter of people who were salaried employees all of their lives, I have watched with amazement and admiration as some of my former students have started their own companies. Because of the line of work I’ve been in, these particular companies have focused on things like software product development, network security, and management consulting. I am proud to say that these companies have evolved from exciting early start-ups to successful players with global partnerships.
For those of us whose upbringing and work experience has included the security of a pay cheque, the risk associated with going out on your own is difficult to contemplate. However, it is all too easy for us to lose sight of the fact that if some people aren’t willing to take this risk, the rest of us won’t have jobs. There can only be so many public sector jobs. When my former students are successful in following their dreams, they end up creating hundreds of new jobs in our region. In an area of shrinking population, this outcome is hugely significant, since otherwise these well-qualified technology professionals would be moving elsewhere. Instead they stay here, pay taxes, raise families that fill the schools, and contribute to the social fabric of our community. Everyone wins.
Clearly, we would all benefit from more people finding and embracing their entrepreneurial side. People I know who are entrepreneurs are passionate about their enterprise. They are innovative people who are always looking for opportunities and growth. The words “Innovation”, “growth”, and “entrepreneurship” are popular with policy makers at all levels of government for the reasons alluded to above. As I mentioned earlier, when entrepreneurs are successful we all win.
While listening to an excellent panel discussion on these issues yesterday, I started to think about how young people are influenced into taking the exciting, though risky, path of starting your own business. It seems that, by and large, people who have grown up in families that were business owners are most likely to accept that lifestyle, with its attendant risks and rewards. Others are drawn to the possibilities of a start-up by being unexpectedly exposed to this world as a young adult, and being captivated by the excitement of working for yourself and building your own company. I wondered how young children could be influenced to consider entrepreneurship as a life calling.
In checking the Internet, I found many helpful suggestions. I’ll share just a few here.
In a column in Forbes, Daniel Isenberg had a well-considered list of eight recommendations given at the request of Ireland’s Minister of Education for developing child and youth policies to foster entrepreneurship later in life. Of the eight recommendations Isenberg provided, all of which are worth considering, I am going to share Isenberg’s Recommendation 2:
“2. Create cultural icons. Research five decades ago by Harvard’s David McClelland and colleagues showed that the stories and sayings that parents tell or use with their children can impact entire societies a generation later. I remember as a child “The Little Engine that Could,” and “A stitch in time saves nine.” I recommend you sponsor children’s story contests, by adult, youth, and child authors. Crowd source the design of cultural images. Identify the values you want the stories to reflect: perseverance, resourcefulness, hard work, mastery (taking control of one’s own fate), leadership, ambition and success, experimentation, independent thinking, learning from mistakes, creativity and innovative spirit and some of the relevant values—and explicitly use them as themes for the stories.”
I love the idea of sponsoring children’s story contests that embrace themes related to fostering an entrepreneurial spirit. I think perhaps I will take up that challenge, contest or no contest.
Another article that intrigued me was a post by Alvina Lopez called 10 Children’s Books Every Business Student Should Read. Her reasons are included in her post, but to get you thinking about the messages in these books, several of which I’m sure you’ll know, here is her list:
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
- The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
- Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
- Charlotte’s Web by EB White
- Beyond the Traditional Lemonade Stand by Randi Lynn Millward
- The Story of the Three Little Pigs
- Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
- Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton
Thinking about the messages in these classic tales from the perspective of entrepreneurship is an interesting exercise.
Do any of you have other ideas about how to encourage children to consider an entrepreneurial future? To at least have it as an option on their list, along with doctor, teacher, policeman, and princess?