The question “Can you teach entrepreneurship?” has received much attention over the last decade.
People who teach entrepreneurship have an important job to do. However, much like the relationship between a ‘product’ and its life sustaining ‘market’, more consideration needs to be given to how people learn/engage with this subject.
For me, academia stills over-emphases traditional didactic pedagogy. Insufficient thought is being applied to how learners learn and how entrepreneurial minds think.
The learning dynamic
However, there are many teachers who do inspirational and highly generative work with budding entrepreneurs. So how do they operate? What I’ve witnessed and researched over the past 25 years is the fact these people rarely teach entrepreneurship. Instead, they create the circumstances for others to learn.
Below are examples of 10 ‘entrepreneurial catalysts’ from around the world. Their game-changing work and application of principle must become more widespread if we are really serious about the next generation developing critical employability skills and sustaining successful entrepreneurial lives.
1. Romano Zavaroni – Creator of curiosity
York-based lecturer Romano Zavaroni never fed his management students information, he simply made them hungry. As part of every course he ran, students (including the author of this post) had to plan, prepare, deliver and review crafted presentations. And those not involved with delivery ‘received’ and ‘observed’ the ‘theatre’. Meanwhile, Romano sat quietly at the back and made copious notes ahead of highly engaging and thought-provoking post ‘match’ tutorials. Romano was ahead of his time. Superb stuff in the 70’s and 80’s.
2. Dr Jones and the website crusade
Arriving at Hobart airport (Tasmania) one Sunday in 2013, I was collected by Dr Colin Jones and driven to a university entrepreneurship class. Talking to 100+ students, I watched him explain (in under 45 mins) how teams had to build a website and use social media to reach new markets abroad. High on energy and inspiration, people were soon creating Weebly websites, blogs, tweets and Facebook pages. Active learning & responsibility lets entrepreneurial minds breathe.
3. Asfaw Yemiru – Giving back is fundamental
From beggar boy to World Children’s Prize Winner, this humble Ethiopian has been the saviour and educator of tens of thousands of orphan children for over 50 years. Critically, when students leave his school and ask what they should do, Asfaw advises them to give back since through the school they have received so much. Inequality is the world’s greatest ill and within the fabric of every young entrepreneur’s thinking should be a desire to give back.
4. Frank Dawson – Release control and give responsibility
Pioneering environmental educator, Frank Dawson, made the outdoors his classroom. Always thinking, Frank sought to trust young people in positions of challenging responsibility so they made decisions that had real consequences for themselves and others too. Creating this dynamic led to delight, discomfort and some disquiet. But within his highly enterprising ecosystem, entrepreneurial learning accelerated at a pace unlike almost any other I have ever witnessed.
“The key to motivation is trust” Bart Simpson
5. Melissa Kushner – Entrepreneurial journeys all start somewhere
Entrepreneurial role models are powerful teachers and few engage as much as Melissa Kushner. In 2012 she spoke in Lyon at the World Entrepreneurship Forum about her mission to supply unwanted goods to people in need in Africa. For anyone thinking they can’t make a difference in the world, Melissa is an inspiration. She started small, has made mistakes but as she phrases brilliantly in her 2010 TED speech says “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
6. Prof Alistair Fee – life through an innovative lens
When teaching engineering students to be innovative, enterprising and entrepreneurial, Professor Fee is not interested in the ‘satisfactory’ or ‘good’. In his eyes only the remarkable stuff makes a difference which means being ‘radical and relentless’. Running classes from Belfast’s tallest building, dressing as a chef and encouraging students to adopt a James Bond persona (so nothing is impossible) all fit with his philosophy. Fresh perspectives generate new ideas and new ways of thinking.
7. Patrick Awuah – uncertainty is fundamental
For me, Patrick was the stand-out speaker at a 2013 Conference in Tunisia. Following graduation and 10 years work with Microsoft in the US, he returned home to Ghana to create his own private Ashesi University. Patrick is committed to providing high quality leadership and entrepreneurship education and recognises that to properly prepare people for work, the issue of ‘uncertainty‘ needs to be a constant part of all learning.
8. Professor Mike Morris – Don’t get institutionalised
Being different and standing away from the crowd is routine for the entrepreneur. But to be an entrepreneurial teacher almost requires a different kind of resilience and fortitude since the DNA of a scholastic environment is often anti-change and pro-tradition. I’ve met Entrepreneurship Professor Mike Morris from the University of Florida a few times, but his presentation in Kansas in 2013 entitled ‘Don’t get Institutionalised‘ struck and strong chord with me and the largely academic audience.
9. Sir Ken Robinson – education has created a talent crisis
Education guru, Sir Ken Robinson, made his famous TED speech in California in 2010 ‘entitled ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution’. Within this crafted presentation Robinson highlights the talent crisis we face because our linear-based education system prevents people from discovering their true ‘human resource’. As highlighted by examples above, learning about entrepreneurship should be an organic opportunity allowing people to discover their talent.
10. Mark Wood – man of action
Polar explorer and climber, Mark Wood, is a Coventry man who has discovered his talent and shares his time freely with schools all over the world. Using Skype, Mark inspires thousands of young people by showing what he does and what is possible in life. Humble and living on a relatively low-income Mark is for me the epitome of what adventurous entrepreneurial spirits can achieve not just for themselves but for others too.
Key Learning Points: Can you teach entrepreneurship? You can try but it is much more powerful to create the circumstances where people are able to learn for themselves. To teach entrepreneurship effectively the teacher uses their skills and experience to facilitate the journey’s content and direction.
Summary of key principles
Teach entrepreneurship: By creating curiosity and encouraging fresh perspectives
Teach entrepreneurship: By providing active learning experience and involving inspiring practitioners
Teach entrepreneurship: By developing a culture of sharing and giving back
Teach entrepreneurship: By reducing teaching control and making uncertainty a central theme
Teach entrepreneurship: By inspiring and creating the circumstances for people to discover and develop their talents