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 “Entrepreneurship should become the fourth “R” right alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.”  I agree with Richard Florida.  Entrepreneurial creativity has always shaped the landscape of opportunity and wealth — not just for the innovators, but for the countries in which they live. 

Consider the free-thinking of Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison.  Each brought economic and infrastructure greatness to these United States.  Although this last decade has given birth to Facebook, Google’s search algorithm and Apple’s iPhone, American creativity and innovation are reportedly on the decline.  Our slip to 4th place in the 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report and our fall to 3rd place in a study on global entrepreneurship issued by the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, punctuate this fact. 

The loss of these global footholds means new technologies and occupations will exist outside our borders, potentially further contributing to our economic duress. 

Creative Thinking & Our Children

Entrepreneurial creativity is defined by an individual’s ability to convert creative ideas into value-producing profitable business activities.  While there’s no question that the 20th century was largely pioneered by enterprising Americans, future generations can not rest on the laurels of yesteryear and expect an easy road ahead.       

Once an international leader in high school graduation rates, the U.S. is now ranked 18th out of 25 industrialized countries.  While other nations are heralded for teaching their kids how to create jobs, U.S. public schools are too often criticized of only preparing today’s youth for jobs.  We need to re-think our cultural support of entrepreneurship, if we hope to capitalize on the passion and energy this next generation has to offer. 

Just three years ago, a Harris Interactive survey revealed that 4 in 10 young people (ages 8-to-21) would like to start their own businesses someday, especially if that means they can use their skills and abilities to build for the future.  Although aspirations are high, action, execution and support for budding entrepreneurs in that age-group is embarrassingly low.

Educational Psychologist, Kyung Hee Kim (who was interviewed for a Newsweek article, entitled: The Creativity Crisis), believes that our current student body will be less prepared to deal with the future challenges that await them, if innovation and free thinking aren’t fostered and encouraged in schools.

“Future leaders will not be ready to accept risks, even though the population may expect the rewards that the previous generations enjoyed as their legacy.”

According to Dr. Kim, creativity in America is punished and discouraged by parents and teachers who perceive creative behavior as inconvenient and difficult to manage. (And I shouldn’t even open up this can of worms, but research also shows that many children diagnosed with ADHD are creative, and many creative children are misdiagnosed as having ADHD.)  As Dr. Kim points out, the very qualities that facilitate individual’s creative accomplishments can be the same ones that may cause them to struggle in what we have defined as “normal” and “acceptable” behavior in school.

Sir Ken Robinson’s “Changing Education Paradigms” speech poignantly endorses this assertion by examining the problems we have created with standardized curriculum, rote memorization and nationalized testing: 

While there’s a movement to abolish static teaching practices, all of us – parents, educators and business leaders – have to realize that the capacity to nurture our next generation of <social> entrepreneurs takes root in the conversations we have with kids at home and in our schools. 

In the past, I’ve suggested that we should more heavily invest in empowering kids with service to their community – because it brings heightened relevance.  I’ve really only hinted at how important I feel it is that we use mobile and social technologies as well in this context.  

The 2.0 web is a massive leap forward in human evolution.  According to a think-tank composed of scholars from Silicon Valley, Oxford, Harvard, Rutgers, the Universities of Tokyo and Lausanne and Kansas State University, “The last five years represent a quantum leap in the evolution of Homo Sapiens, comparable to far earlier transformations in hominid history.”

web 2.0 and entrepreneurial creativity

Characteristically, today’s youth value experiential learning and working in teams.  They want to gain knowledge by doing, rather than being told what to do.  Our social web facilitates these types of interactions better than most classrooms currently can.

According to the National School Boards Association (NSBA), more than 93% of educators surveyed say classroom technology has made students more engaged in learning.  But the reality is, we’re still years away from mainstream web 2.0 classroom implementations because of the following challenges:

  1. Social and mobile technology itself has to overcome it’s “mind-numbing, waste of time” reputation.   
  2. Educators, not used to teaching with web 2.0 tools, need to get training and support before they can cut ties with traditional teaching methodologies and print textbooks.

Cost no longer has to be the barrier, as there are a variety of free social media tools for teachers which provide immediate visibility and access to popular information.  Instant messaging & video conferencing enables us to communicate with people around the globe in a millisecond; wikis let us co-create and share ideas; and hundreds of thousands of smart phone applications are at our fingertips.

Academic rigor – the ability to master specific skills – increases with the use of technology.  Even when teachers implement a hybrid approach (coupling traditional methods with e-learning platforms), kids engage more deeply. 

“Our collaboration online has not only enhanced their learning experience, but my own teaching experience as well,” attests one educator.  Adds an 8th grade student:  “We can express our opinions like adults, not kids.”  These statements also reflect the power technology has to seamlessly add a multi-age component to schools – which I’ll save for another post.    

Cultivating kid-preneurs

Equity concerns about student access to devices have to be resolved — and quickly — because every time we confiscate social and mobile technologies from the hands of our children, we are disconnecting ourselves from them.  Research firms Frost & Sullivan and Forrester are predicting that by 2015, more than 80% of Americans will own smartphones, compared to 17% of us today.  Whether the proliferation will reach those proportions or not, it’s clear that we need to bridge our growing digital divide.

It pains me greatly that so many apps have been developed to be consumed as “toys” as opposed to teaching or informational tools.  I’d like to ask more brand counterparts to show their corporate support of education by investing in programs and products which foster creativity and innovative thinking.  After all, these are among the top 5 skills organizations say they need from their employee-base.

KooDooZ will again join the Kauffman Foundation’s effort in raising awareness for the importance of entrepreneurialism by participating in Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW 2010).  Our team – and the kids whose lives we touch – will add our voices to the millions of people around the globe to participate in the world’s largest celebration of entrepreneurship and creativity.

Can your firm organize an event to cultivate and inspire youth entrepreneurs between November 15th and 21st, 2010?  I challenge you to do so.  Consider it a remarkable opportunity to invest in the future with a guaranteed return on investment.

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