Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Innovative Education

The Yale School of Management is experimenting with an interesting new MBA program that hope to stimulate a new way of thinking for their students to be more effective in the new economy. Seeing a program like this almost makes me want to go back to school and accept the opportunity-cost of doing so. I think this is a powerful step forward to bringing innovative thinking out of our education system, but why wait until students are in an MBA program at an Ivy League school?

I believe the entire education system could use some innovative thinking in how it educates children to new ways of thinking especially in the area of innovation all the way back into elementary school. I read a paper published, that had some interesting stats, and although they didn’t reference the source, I still found them intriguing. The paper focused on growing entrepreneurial learning in schools. It stated that while 25% of children show a propensity for being an idea initiator (a person that can see an opportunity and translate that into an idea) in kindergarten, only 3% of students coming out of high school show the same trait. However in a recent poll by JA worldwide (Junior Achievement) more than 70% of teens are interested in starting their own business. The first statisic is concerning but at the same time these two statics together seem to present an exciting opportunity. We have a declining ability to come up with ideas as we age, but a very high desire to be an entrepreneur, so if we can find a way to keep the initiator ability that we have at the kindergarten level or even increase it as kids go through the education system, there is huge potential.

Small business and entrepreneurialism is the lifeblood of this country, so imagine what the economy could become if we didn’t let that ability slip away as children grow up, and even grow it. Somehow our education system is ‘teaching’ the creativity, entrepreneurialism and innovative nature out of our children. (See my previous post on thinking like a child.) I think part of this due to our focus on ‘just in case’ learning vs. 'just in time' learning. Although education has made great strides in coming up with different learning techniques to make just in case learning more fun, it is still sits essentially within the same basic educational framework. What we need is disruptive change to education – not tweaks to the existing system.

Some companies such as Intel have started programs to help prepare our youth for the future, as well as independant organizations such as JA, but I feel that this is just the beginning of what is needed. I think this is where entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking can help. How can entrepreneurs take their thought patterns and work with forward thinking, entrepreneurial teachers and develop teaching techniques and tools that will evolve, grow, and nurture this innovative spirit and skill when children are young. I am convinced that the ability to be an idea initiator in not a trait you one is born with and all others are out of luck. It can be leaned and trained, and as with other skills can be much easier if started early. By the time you are an adult it is often too difficult to master, due to hardwiring that has been built up as you age and progress through the education system. (It’s not unlike my fruitless attempts to master a second language as an adult without direct immersion – ie just in time learning).

Just like young children can suck up languages without thinking, so too can they learn to be innovative, allowing an entrepreneurial passion to be realized. This is not a personality trait or a complex technical skill – it’s just the ability to 'see', and zero in on needs and not be opportunity blind.

No comments: