Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why Are Kids Losing Interest in Entrepreneurship?

As you can judge by its title, this Forbes article posted more than 2 months ago is quite troubling: Kids Lose Interest in Entrepreneurship as They Get Older. In this article, Forbes peeled back the onion on an otherwise rosy 2011 Gallup poll on entrepreneurship to find that
While 65 percent of fifth and sixth graders plan to start a business, only 34 percent of high school kids do. (see graph below)
Thus, somehow as a country we lose 50% of our total entrepreneur population in middle school! And what troubles me even more is the lack of any substantive or serious discussion on this (critical) topic by any politician or educators.

What is amiss?

The Forbes article takes a stab at a response:
For insight into why older kids are less likely than younger ones to plan to start businesses, I turned to my resident expert on what kids think – my fourth grade daughter Hannah.  Hannah’s explanation was that kids learn about alternatives to an entrepreneurial career as they get older.  As kids become interested in other jobs, the share that plans to start a business declines.
But with all due respect to the author's fourth grade daughter, this does not seem to get at the heart of the issue. In my own childhood experience and that of most toddlers, the various white collar and blue collar professions are the first "jobs" that kids get exposed to: Firefighter, Police, Doctor, Nurse, Mechanic, Pilot, Flight Attendant, Captain, Cashier, Factory Worker (especially if chocolate is involved), Factory Manager, Actor, Actress, Ballerina, Athlete, Teacher, etc. Instead, what I think is the culprit here is the fear of failure that a lot of educators instill in children that turns otherwise adventurous souls into scared puppies.

It has been a truism for a long time that small businesses and entrepreneurs are the engine of growth of our economy. Yet, it seems that somehow our primary education system systematically manages to kill the very engine of growth we are trying to fuel. What do you think? Can we do a course correction? Any and all solutions are welcome!

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