Entrepreneurship is the mot du jour. It has connotations of cool. Entrepreneurial success is championed in the media and appears, dare I say it, sexy. Schools are under pressure to produce entrepreneurial kids; children with value-creating super powers that will solve the ills of our economy; an economy where employment is no longer as “safe” a route as it once was.
My favourite definition of entrepreneurship is “moving capital from a place of low value to a place of higher value”. Hardly sexy, but it captures the action perfectly. Value is the key idea of entrepreneurship, and this is a concept that applies equally well to employment as it does to starting a business. In essence, entrepreneurship should not be viewed as a career choice but a mentality to be carried forward with you into whatever setting you proceed.
It is this mentality that will make a difference in schools. Entrepreneurship should not be viewed as the creation of businesses, but as the action of adding value. We emphasise the value of grades far too much. In the work place, value is defined as the contribution you make on a day to day basis. Whilst a good indicator of intellect, grades are a poor indicator of the value a student adds to an organisation day in, day out. The two simply don’t correlate, no matter how much simpler life would be if it did. Businesses are cottoning onto this fact, as demonstrated by convoluted application processes and assessment criteria.
Students should be taught to think of the value they can add. What can they do to make a difference on a daily basis? Volunteering and community service are great ways to instil this entrepreneurial mentality. True entrepreneurs are always thinking about how they can add more value to others than anybody else. Learning how to add value requires empathy, creativity, and great communication.
Businesses are created when opportunity meets preparation. Too many businesses are created through contrived processes. The best businesses are started through recognising opportunities. A person can only recognise opportunity if they are prepared. Great preparation occurs daily. Students should be taught daily to think about the skills they possess and what they can offer other people. They should be constantly looking at the situations they find themselves in and think how they can add value. They should be constantly looking for problems and for opportunities to solve these problems. That is what entrepreneurs do. They solve problems for others.
When a person adopts this mentality, business ideas find them. Their preparation allows them to recognise opportunity and they will be in a position to capitalise. This attitude of skill acquisition and looking to add value can be implemented day in, day out at schools and colleges. Allowing students to creatively contribute to the life of the college will get them into thinking about how they can add value to others. By focusing on the generic skills of entrepreneurship as opposed to forcing the action, students will learn that they need to be value-adders in order to succeed. The best employees are those that think how much value they are adding to the business they are working for as opposed to what the business can give them. The best paid employees are the ones who add the most value.
The best way to make a billion pound business is to help a billion people. By creating a generation of students who think about how much they can give to the world, as opposed to how much they can get from it, we’ll find the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Entrepreneurs who are motivated by the right things, and not the mythical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Even if our budding entrepreneurs go on to get a job, they’ll be happier, better paid and more secure if they think of the value they can add before what salary or perks they can take. Entrepreneurship within education is a must, but the focus should not be on building a business. We need to teach our students how to add value.