Not only is the innovation/start-up/incubator world a significant sector of the global and many local economies, as the source of new business, it is also the best indicator to show us what our future will look like. Unfortunately for all of us, growth in this sector has been slowing.
As an educator, I am concerned with preparing children and education for the future ten, twenty and fifty years from now. Let’s discuss why innovation is so critical and how we can solve this declining innovation problem NOW.
Small businesses have long been touted as the “backbone” of the American economy because they employ members of local communities. But that alone does not drive our economies. The new ideas, solutions to global problems, cutting edge hacks to human issues and competition are what keeps things fair and healthy in our economy. According to the Kauffman Foundation:
New and young companies are the primary source of job creation in the American economy. Not only that, but these firms also contribute to economic dynamism by injecting competition into markets and spurring innovation.
Whats more, new businesses account for nearly all new job creation. Small businesses that have been established and operating for a while tend not to be adding jobs. According to Kauffman, “young firms drive job growth and economic dynamism” and account for 20% of all job creation – a stunning number of jobs, in fact:
Companies less than one year old have created an average of 1.5 million jobs per year over the past three decades.
So what is the problem? Rates of new businesses have been in a decline. We can’t possibly slip back into an old paradigm of less innovation, can we? In 2015, we need new and rapid solutions to ever more and larger problems. In an article entitled “The Decline of American Entrepreneurship in Five Charts”, the Washing Post lays out five graphs of growth in the sector over the past ten years.
We are making gradual improvement post 2008 recession but need for new jobs created by new business increases every year. We also need solutions to massive problems and we need them quickly. The federal government may or may not respond as experts suggest it should. But there is no doubt that in 2015 we need to do anything but decline.
Sure, tax incentives and more foreign visas could be helpful, but if that is the main conversation we are having about the lack of new businesses or the future of innovation in the United States, then we are missing a major solution. The other answer is precisely THE greatest and most under-valued solution. It is, in fact, the one sector of our society that will always – and I do mean always – present the greatest answer to the future of innovation. It will always be the source of new business, stronger economies, diverse workforce, cutting edge ideas and solutions to all of our problems. What is this magical source of solutions to our problems?
THE AMERICAN EDUCATION SYSTEM.
Teaching entrepreneurship and the myriad of skills inherent in being an innovator can and must be taught in our public schools, not just in higher education. The beautiful irony here is that most innovators don’t go to college to study entrepreneurship – and of those who do, most decide to go in a different direction (I know many who chose more secure corporate consulting gigs over living the scrappier and less financially stable life of a start-up entrepreneur).
One of my favorite stories came from a friend who got an entrepreneurship MBA from a top-tier global university. Jack Welch gave a lecture to the room of hopeful entrepreneurs and told them to look around the room and realize that only one out of ten would actually start a company.
If that is the case (and I believe it surely is), then we must look to the non-elite schools – and our public secondary schools at that – to train and support future innovators. It has been my experience as an educator that the untapped brilliance held within the mind of a child already overlooked by society is our greatest missed opportunity – for that child’s potential, for their secure adulthood contribution to society, for our collective future and for the betterment of the world.
It’s time to teach innovation in schools.
Let’s take a moment to look at our current education system. What was designed to be a source of training and employees for a new age in America served its purpose well – in response to the American Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. Our current system was designed in the mid-1800’s in congruence with trends in other advanced societies for educating young people to labor in factories. Those of us working on a new revolution in education roll our collective eyes when we talk about how terribly outdated and outmoded our education system is. It has changed very little in the last century and a half. The most recent reworking of our modern-day education system was in response to Brown v. Board of Ed declaring in 1954 that “separate but equal” racially segregated schools were unconstitutional. This act 60 years ago addressed racial segregation, but no major changes to the workings of the system have been made since.
In response to the economic needs of the new industrial times, the decisions and policies were designed (largely from the 1840s to 1860s) to segregate students by age, teach them a standardized curricula and institute school boards. Horace Mann, one of the leading education reformers to design our current system some 170 years ago, along with his fellow revolutionaries, undoubtedly never intended for their vision of an education system to remain largely unchanged, well into the 21st century.
While I work to help schools and districts plan and make room for teaching innovation and entrepreneurship, it is still a huge challenge to find a school that can afford the class time and identify a teacher skilled to teach young people how to build businesses. Teaching innovation and entrepreneurship is extremely valuable to students and should be made a priority by federal education measures as decisions are made about how much time must be spent on learning math, science and history each year. Teaching students entrepreneurship in schools helps them to:
- Gain self-confidence
- Make important connections between what they learn in school and how that knowledge can be applied in the real world
- Explore their creativity from concept to delivery
- Believe their ideas have a place in the world – and show them how to present their ideas to others
- Understand the basic workings of a business – thereby preparing them to make more informed decisions about colleges, majors and possible career paths
- Feel comfortable in the business space – learning the language, networking, “code switching” from student to young professional, gaining valuable insight about how to navigate the world of work
- See the fruits of their ideas and hard work and imagine the real-world pay-off as they pitch business plans and make elevator pitches.
It’s time for revolutionary change in our school systems
The case could not be clearer for a modern day revolution and redesign of the education system. We are far beyond the Industrial Revolution. In 2015, we look very different:
We are living in a rapidly changing, more compassionate, social-equality based, globally inclusive, innovation and technology-driven era that requires an approach to educating young people that suits society’s needs and serves our children’s best interests.
What will it take to leverage a new education revolution? For starters, and this is the start of a whole new dialog, here is what I see as essential to the discussion and the process:
- A community approach – everyone engaged: parents, neighbors, employers, teachers, city leaders, higher education, etc.
- An awareness of local and global trends and needs
- Flexibility in our thinking about school-day and school-year structure
- An honest discussion about race, class and gender disparities in society and how to proactively address them in our new education approach
- A reassessment of the institutional segregation inherent in our current system and thinking abut how children “should” be educated (this includes eliminating the lines we draw around age groups, zip-code based school assignments and how a child progresses through the system.
- Resistance to a one-size fits all mentality because it is the way A) we’ve always done it, B) all we can “afford” to do, C) the only way we can fathom managing the task.
- Inclusion of innovators and people not typically engaged in the conversation. A new American system that will undoubtedly influence education across the globe.
- Most importantly, an honest assessment of the many diverse ways children learn and how we can meet them there rather then forcing them into our tiny square holes. We must get comfortable with being uncomfortable because we need to be radical in our thinking. We may very well need schools designed to teach students according to learning style across all curricula and we need to resist the urge to argue why that isn’t possible or a good idea. We need to brainstorm, and as we teach our kids, there are no bad ideas in brainstorming.
- Finally, let’s be unafraid to take action, lest we continue theorizing how to change a system that has been outdated for a hundred years – it will undoubtedly crumble on its own if we do not start finding solutions.
It will take entire communities to have the conversations, and we must think both locally and nationally (and globally) at the same time. As a part of our community, I welcome your thoughts on how we continue to inspire, find and grow new and future innovators. It is our children, those future entrepreneurs who will spend lifetimes and entire careers solving the complex and overwhelming problems we have created in this world. Let’s do all we can to bring them all to the playing field.
About the Author:
Amy Carrier has been building new solutions in education since 2000. She is known for empowering teens to become entrepreneurs teaching them how to create their own unique solutions to problems in their communities. Amy has been interviewed on CNN about teaching business and entrepreneurship in schools.
Follow and read more of Amy’s writing on her blog here.