Recently there have been several articles about the characteristics of entrepreneurs and how to develop the necessary traits in children. A post from the Equity Kicker is here, the Wall Street Journal opines here, the accounting firm E&Y adds to the topic here (FR) and HBS professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter's article from HBR is here. The notion of how to develop children as entrepreneurs is a particularly engaging idea. It may become a very fashionable topic of discussion as the U.S. looks for a solution to what may become a long term economic malaise.
While this post could easily become another article on education or a critique of the articles mentioned above, I prefer to just list the seven traits we need to foster in children for them to become entrepreneurs and to suggest some ways to develop these traits.
Creativity is the foundation of invention and innovation (invention commercialized). I think that creativity is very hard to teach, despite some great thinking on the subject by Austin, Hamming and Minsky to name a few. However, creativity can be learned, most easily by fostering an environment of discovery for the child. Also, much creativity is found at the intersection of multiple disciplines, so I think we should encourage children to develop multiple passions. Rather than having a child devote their entire youth to being accepted at Juilliard or Harvard, we need to encourage deep dives into 2-3 areas. A Montessori education may be another alternative, as this post shows. I also like "project based learning" as a way to develop creativity.
Critical thinking is a systematic way to analyze and understand complex subjects and draw original conclusions. I think focused study in subjects such as philosophy, economics or political science should be encouraged at a much younger age. These subjects are complex, notable in the number and quality of their theories and marked by centuries and centuries of brilliant thinkers with conflicting views.
Rare is the successful entrepreneur who is not a captivating storyteller, able to motivate and engage employees, shareholders and customers. To foster communications skills I would encourage activities for children that require public speaking. Teaching is also an excellent way to develop better communications skills. Humans are the only animal that can teach yet educational methods rarely encourage children to teach as a way to better understand a subject and communicate effectively.
Collaboration, or teamwork in the vernacular, is something I avoided until I built a large company. Complex ideas and tasks require multiple inputs to reach a high quality result. While many experts advocate for team sports as a means to develop collaboration, such approaches rarely develop techniques for intellectual collaboration. To foster intellectual collaboration perhaps more science fairs should allow team entries, perhaps more debate teams should be encouraged and perhaps the use of wikis should start with younger children.
Self-reliance and Determination
It may appear that I have just contradicted myself after addressing collaboration, but in the end someone needs to take responsibility to complete the task and make a decision. Many have written about the loneliness of entrepreneurship and it is self-reliance that gets one through the tough times. To develop the qualities of self-reliance and determination in youth, one technique would be to encourage individual sports such as sailing, rock climbing and long distance running. A ten year old sailing an eight foot pram in 30 knot winds has achieved a high level of self-reliance and determination.
Leadership is the definition and achievement of a mission through an appropriate mix of self-interest and morality. While early education at a military school might develop leadership qualities, such an approach may not have widespeard popularity. Readings on leadership might be a less threatening way. Practice as a leader is the way most of us learned it.
Morality is generally based on one of the great religions of the world. Many children learn about morality through religious training and many learn simply from the example of their parents. Regardless of the method, great entrepreneurs are usually focused as much on the social benfit as the economic return and this belief is ultimately grounded in a well developed moral compass.
One last thought on raising entrepreneurs. Very often entrepreneurs are unconventional in their interests and social behaviors. Excessive concern about conforming the child to "accepted norms" may snuff out the budding entrepreneur. If the behavior is not illegal, a little tolerance will go a long way toward letting the entrepreneur emerge.