Entrepreneurship and Young People

Entrepreneurship and Young People

In my previous article I finished by asking you where on your body you would put a third eye if given one. Older people are likely to suggest somewhere on the back of the body whilst young people will suggest much more creative solutions such as on the ends of fingers or toes.

This may seem to be just an interesting diversion until we look at why this happens. Many people think creative people are born that way. In fact all of us were born with creative ability. Left to our own devices we would probably all come up with innovative solutions to problems that are faced in growing up. In other words, we are born with the ability to think ‘outside of the box' as there is no box at birth.

However, other people soon start to build the ‘box' for us. Parents set rules that define part of the box and this is soon followed by school teachers, university lecturers and work. Too many people in our lives define the ‘box' by presenting us with the rules rather than letting us experiment and find solutions for ourselves.

This ‘box' defining gives us our first indication as to why entrepreneurship is a great choice for young people. Young people are much more likely to challenge the status quo and to develop innovative solutions. Sony has recently taken on the winning team from a Lego competition to design a robot as entrepreneurs. They are aged 10 – 13 years!

The second thing that assists young people in looking at entrepreneurship as an option is that many opportunities today are based around technology. This gives young people are real start over older people as older people are less likely to understand the true implications of a technological opportunity and are hence less likely to try and build a ‘box' around the solution.

Thirdly, most definitions of entrepreneurship include the concept of risk somewhere. Indeed, neurological tests on entrepreneurs have indicated that the only measurable difference between entrepreneurs and others is that they react less strongly to risky situations. This too benefits young people as they are less likely to be put off by risk than older people with responsibilities for the home and a family.

At first sight, therefore, one wonders why all young people don't choose entrepreneurship as a career path. Probably the single biggest reason is the fear of failure. Whether it is our parents, our teachers or society in general, others often define for us what they see as success. How many times have parents said "we want you to get really good qualifications so as to get a good job" and yet have never said "we want you to keep your creativity by challenging and experimenting so that you can be a good entrepreneur"!

In our fast modern world, where society measures success by the number and level of certificates, the importance of different jobs or the size of the house or car, it becomes all to easy to join the status ladder at the earliest opportunity. Education that is totally certificate focussed will have no time for experimentation or alternative solutions. It is interesting to note that there are now people developing learning packs for young people that have no one solution and which requires experimentation, risk and creativity.

For anyone to achieve true entrepreneurial status they need to remove the fear of failure. They need to recognise that to achieve something new they will need to try more than once to succeed. Many people use WD40 as a lubricant for stopping water getting into engines without realising that the WD stands for Water Displacement and that 40 was the number of times they had to try before they got it right.

Most successes came as a result of a number of unsuccessful attempts. Edison took 10,000 attempts to get the light bulb right but he did not talk of failure, he simply said that he found 9,999 ways that did not work! The person that invented the vacuum cleaner with no bag took 5126 prototypes before he got it right and Thomas Adams tried making toys, tyres and boots from chicle (from a Mexican tree) before he accidentally started to chew on some and invented chewing gum! All of them understood that failure is not in falling down, but in failing to get up and try again.

A few years ago I had the good fortune to work with a young man who was long term unemployed. He had gained a degree from university but could not get a job. He had a business idea that all of the older advisers he talked to said would not work. However, I recognised that he had the entrepreneurial spirit and today he sells his products in all major UK stores as well as the internet and has just launched in America. His turnover last year was over ten million Euros. His success mirrored so much of what I believe about young people and entrepreneurship.

Many who have heard me speak to groups of young people will know that I always finish my talks with the statement ‘Remember the Bumble Bee'. I do this to encourage young people wanting to go into business not always to listen to the so called old and wise. For those that have not heard me speak, if you study aerodynamics then the bumble bee is too fat, too heavy, his wings are too small and they flap too slowly and yet he flies. The reason he does so is because he believes he can.

Young people are where the majority of entrepreneurs will come from and it is the role of society to provide a climate that encourages that entrepreneurial thinking. That means that we need to start right back at the earliest age possible to encourage a culture where young people believe they can and are not afraid to try.

Throughout this article I have referred to young people. That term embraces men and women. Next time I will explain why women make such good business people but until then you may like to think of some of the reasons yourself.

Roger is an international business consultant who specialises in working with SMEs and SME support organisations. He has particular skills in Entrepreneurship, business incubation and business centres. He is an outstanding speaker and media personality.

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