Entrepreneurial thinking in academics.

While I am lucky enough to be a panel member at a UNESCO event this week in Bangkok on the topic of “entrepreneurship & education” I prepared for the event by writing down some of my thoughts, reading through former articles and findings and realized that, most of the times, we look at entrepreneurship as something that should be taught as a class. A subject. As if entrepreneurship is something to grab. But is that it? Before elaborating on these thoughts so let us briefly look at the announcement of the UNESCO event this upcoming week in Bangkok.

Entrepreneurship is attracting substantial attention from policy makers, educators and among the young people themselves as a driver of economic growth and innovations. In many ways, the march towards entrepreneurship is very much inspired by the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and closer to home Jack Ma and other successful innovators. The questions often being asked are what made them so successful? Can we create more Steve Jobs and Jack Mas, and if yes, how can we do it? Notwithstanding the debate on nature vs. nurture, Peter Drucker said that entrepreneurship is a discipline, and like any discipline, it can be learned. The growing numbers of entrepreneurship education programmes and courses indicate that policy makers, educators and those future entrepreneurs agree with Drucker.

Clearly, many factors have to be considered and necessary conditions put in place to equip aspiring entrepreneurs with appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes for their journey. To better understand these factors and conditions, and to provide recommendations for effective entrepreneurship education, UNESCO Bangkok has initiated a research study on the ecosystem needed to support entrepreneurship education in universities in 9 countries.

In this announcement we can see a few interesting aspects. First and foremost the mention of Peter Drucker who said that entrepreneurship is a discipline that can be learned. With the emergence of different entrepreneurial focused classes in Universities around the glob one certainly does not have to argue with that. Entrepreneurship can certainly be learned and classes focusing on different aspects or different kinds of entrepreneurship are surely a great addition to the modern curriculum and help a lot in developing entrepreneurial understanding. However, the question remains: Is this all?

In order to study subjects related to entrepreneurship, no matter if social, tech, startup or whatever you first need to realized that you are interested in entrepreneurship or entrepreneurial approaches. What if you don’t know anything about it though? What if you study social sciences, science, communication arts, architecture, arts, p.e. or anything related to the medical field? Chances are you will never be ‘forced’ to think about entrepreneurship. And sure, not everybody needs to be an entrepreneur, but the entrepreneurial approach is something that can help or benefit almost everyone – even students who do not directly enroll into business related majors.

Events such as Startup Weekends show perfectly how ‘non-business people’ can strive in an entrepreneurial setting. Outcomes are quite often mind blowing and show how creative people can be when they are allowed to use a more straight forward, not academically restricted, approach.

I do believe that it is possible to implement such straight forward, problem solving oriented, approaches into almost every class at University – probably even before college comes around. I also understand that some subjects feel the ‘need’ to stay old-school and focus on learning by heart but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to use the learned in order to solve problems, right? In general I am a great advocate of problem oriented, creative teaching and learning. Understanding that you have to study certain theories in order to solve current problems does help to find the right motivation even when it comes to ‘dry’ topics that aren’t as exciting as start-up entrepreneurship (if that’s the thing that gets you excited).

If I’m not mistaken Randy Pausch once said something similar to you only need to guide students into the right direction and inspire them to find the solution. If you inspire and motivate them and if they have the freedom to do so, they will exceed all your expectations. This is 100% true (obviously not everyone is awesome but overall projects usually turn out more than just ‘ok’) from my experience and shows that this ‘entrepreneurial’, straight forward, problem oriented approach does work in all areas of education.

It is more exhausting, requires more planing and thinking but will also provide you with way more fun, excitement and memorable outcomes in the end.

Academics gone entrepreneurial. Not only a good theory.

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