Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Future is Here, Now!
Last January, in this article posted at www.scienceprogress.org, authors Richard Seline and Steven Miller wrote about the importance of finding ways in this period of economic uncertainty to “unleash the competitiveness and entrepreneurial spirit of community and regional ideas and solutions.”
The authors suggest the formation of what they call “federal-regional Innovation Collaboratories” – groups consisting of entrepreneurial local organizations and individuals who, together with federal leaders and policymakers, can construct new frameworks for action and ultimately transform and catalyze innovation on a national scale.
The authors go on to propose:
“To focus this transformation, we suggest choosing two or three Grand Challenges – competitive skills, alternative energy, water and the environment, or health care – to target the best private sector/academic/entrepreneurial/philanthropic localized expertise and creative thinking in partnership with White House policymakers, federal department leadership and program staff.”
The implementation of these types of proposals and ideas is not far off. In April of this year, President Obama established a White House Office of Social Innovation to facilitate ways in which nonprofit groups and entrepreneurs can help develop innovative and effective solutions to social issues and challenges on a local and national scale. According to President Obama:
“The answers to our problems….. exist in our laboratories and our universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.” [From President Obama’s speech to Congress on Feb. 24, 2009]
I would add that those answers may be hatching in the minds of our students at Lawrence as well – and at many other schools that cater to students who have learning differences. As we witness daily, students who learn, think, and process information differently have the ability to approach problems and attempt solutions in a manner that is organically unique, and very dissimilar from students who have not had to struggle with reading or attention challenges.
Innovation and entrepreneurialism require a mindset that is unique, different, outside the “norm”, and unafraid of challenge and risk. Let’s think of these qualities in comparison to those often valued in mainstream education: uniformity, standardization, rote memorization, and linear thinking. If we really want to unleash entrepreneurial spirit, and tap into the innovative intellect of our citizens, we may well want to re-think how we conduct the practice of education in our schools.
Back in December of 2007, The New York Times carried a report of research conducted at the Cass Business School in London by Professor Julie Logan, a professor of entrepreneurship [Tracing Business Acumen to Dyslexia by Brent Bowers].
In a survey of successful entrepreneurial small business owners, 35 % identified themselves as dyslexic. Since dyslexics account for only 15 % of the general population, this is a significant finding. The study also concluded that dyslexics were more likely than non-dyslexics to delegate authority, to have awareness of their strengths and challenges, to excel in oral communication and problem solving and were twice as likely to own two or more businesses.
To me, this is really big! Thought leaders in our country, such as our president and the authors of the Science Progress article, are telling us that those who practice innovation and entrepreneurship, those with imagination and work ethic – these are the type of individuals who may very well have the qualities to shape the destiny of our country. At the same time, folks in higher education are doing research in the business world gathering evidence and concluding that our students – your kids – could well be our country’s future business leaders and social thinkers!
When we look at the differences between how we see our students in school, and how they are perceived in the world after they are through school, we can see some interesting contrasts. Students who struggle with language, memory, attention, and executive skills –and who ultimately succeed – are also able to develop compensatory skills and excellent problem solving skills. These are key to achieving success in small businesses and a host of other pursuits.
I also was interested to learn that the study discussed in The New York Times article showed that there were a higher percentage of successful dyslexic business people here in America in comparison with other countries. Credit for this is given to the differences in educational opportunities:
“The study was based on a survey of 139 business owners in a wide range of fields across the United States. Professor Logan called the number who said they were dyslexic ‘staggering,’ and said it was significantly higher than the 20 percent of British entrepreneurs who said they were dyslexic in a poll she conducted in 2001. She attributed the greater share in the United States to earlier and more effective intervention by American schools to help dyslexic students deal with their learning problems.”
It is imperative that we make excellent educational opportunities available to every student who learns differently – not just those fortunate enough to be able to attend private school, or a well-funded public school where services are available.
Consider the chart below. The left column is how I think schools often “see” our students, and what we all generally “complain” about when we characterize our students and their performance in the linear, linguistic, memory-laden world of grading and timed tasks piled one on the other in a day at school. The right hand column gives the matching strength or compensatory skill. These are qualities that are highly prized in society and the marketplace.
Current Challenges Potential Assets
- Weak rote memory—————————Strong problem solving
- Low self-esteem——————————-High empathy
- Variable focus/time management—-Multi-tasking capabilities
- Weak language skills———————–Strong visual & spatial skills
- Weak organizational skills—————Can handle challenging environments
- Hyperactivity———————————-High energy/output
For our students the message needs to be: “Don’t draw any conclusions about yourself while you are in school!”
Years of anecdotal evidence, and now recent research, points to the fact that our kids can rescue a great future – even from the rubble of their significant struggles in school – as long as they don’t lose heart and they focus on strengths as they develop strategies to deal with learning challenges.
The message for us at Lawrence – and all schools – is crystal clear: What we do every day to support our students and promote their learning makes a difference… now and in the future!Lou Salza Head of School