Today I’m shocked to find myself not agreeing with a TED talk titled Let’s Raise Kids to Be Entrepreneurs. With a title like that, what’s to disagree with? I’m embedding the talk here too, because I’ve done that on several others, and I’m not going to stop when I disagree. Still, it’s a damn movement now: why get an education when you can just be an entrepreneur instead? I hear it all over the place and it bugs the hell out of me. People acting like these are opposites. I object.
Let me refer you to the TED.com description of Cameron Herold’s talk:
Bored in school, failing classes, at odds with peers: This child might be an entrepreneur, says Cameron Herold. At TEDxEdmonton, he makes the case for parenting and education that helps would-be entrepreneurs flourish — as kids and as adults.
It’s a trap. You’d like to cheer for entrepreneurship as just doing things, as freedom from artificial restrictions like licenses and degrees, getting an idea and building a company. I’m all for that. That’s what it’s been for me in my life. But the very dangerous trap is to use entrepreneurship as an excuse for taking the easy way out of something that would be very much worth working for. Why study? Why work at school? Just be an entrepreneur instead. But first, the TED talk, and then I’ll continue my complaining about it:
It’s a trap for two reasons: first, because it’s a cop-out, offering a rationalization for not educating people who struggle. Second, because it relegates education to job training. In both cases it reminds me of tracking people away from school the way they used to do in the 1950s and 1960s, directing the so-called “dumb kids” towards vocational school and job training instead of real school.
So about that first reason, the cop-out factor: In actual life you can’t always walk downhill. Sometimes you have to go uphill. If you don’t, you miss a lot. Baby turtles will walk only downhill after they break out of their shells and that way they either find water or die. Humans need to walk uphill sometimes too. Life takes work. You have to be able to bear down during the crunch times. And knowing how to read, write, add, and subtract is the actual daily stuff of the entrepreneur as much as it is anybody else. Take a look at the Kaufman Foundation’s Education and Tech Entrepreneurship, and you’ll see that in the cream of the entrepreneurship crop, successful founders are likely to be well educated.
And about the second: school, education, ought not to be evaluated according to real or imagined future income. For every self-made genius drop-out like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs there are a few million people stymied as adults for not having stuck with their education, not having done the uphill portions of it, when they were kids. Education is something some people have to forgo because of hard circumstances – struggling families, poverty, true disability – and that is a damned shame. Let’s solve that problem. And let’s not confuse their misfortune with the general rule that entrepreneurs armed with education are more likely to succeed than those who aren’t. And educated humans are better off in their whole lives for having had the luxury of learning to read, write, calculate, evaluate, analyze, and enjoy.