Building an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Teaching grit, as featured on NPR last week, is all the rage in U.S. education these days.  Grit is part of what Stanford University professor Carol Dweck a “growth mindset” — the belief that success comes from effort — and not a “fixed mindset” — the notion that people succeed because they are born with a “gift” of intelligence or talent.
It’s possible that standards-based programs of managed instruction that produced high test score were, in effect, spoon feeding students without incorporating enough productive failure.  Encouraging persistence is a great thing but making ‘grit’ a stated goal seems both too limiting and disconnected from a sense of purpose.
There is also a lot of talk about college and career readiness these days–but the focus is on the reading, writing and math skills to gain college acceptance.  Beyond the basics, the most important aspect of career readiness may be developing an entrepreneurial mindset–that includes being able and ready to create your own job, but it also means curiosity, self-direction, and looking for ways to add value in every circumstance.
There are a network of universities working together to foster an entrepreneurial mindset in engineers. The  Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN), sponsored by the Kern Foundation, has a great outcome framework (adapted below) that includes persistence but incorporates it in a stronger sense of purpose:

Entrepreneurial Mindset:
  • Exercise curiosity about the world
  • Define problems, opportunities, and solutions in terms of value creation
  • Assess risk
  • Persist through and learn from failure
  • Demonstrate resourcefulness
  • Anticipate technical developments by interpreting surrounding societal and economic trends
  • Identify new business opportunities
Multidimensional Problem Solving:
  • Apply creating thinking to ambiguous problems
  • Apply systems thinking to complex problems
  • Examine technical feasibility, economic drivers, and social and individual needs
  • Act upon analysis
Productive Collaboration:
  • Collaborate in a team setting
  • Understand the motivations and perspectives of stakeholders
  • Communicate solutions in economic terms
  • Substantiate claims with data and facts
  • Pursue personal fulfillment by creating value
  • Identify personal passions and plan for personal growth
  • Fulfill commitments in a timely manner
  • Discern and pursue ethical practices
  • Contribute to society as an active citizen
Like KEEN universities,  Danville Schools illustrates that good schools start with good goalsSummit Public Schools is another good example of incorporating persistence into ‘habits of success,’ one of the four outcome areas. 
Strategies.  There are a variety of pedagogical approaches to building grit.  Learning games and game-based strategies that incorporate productive failure and instructional feedback are a good start.
Big gateway projects, like those central to Expeditionary Learning and recently adopted by the Mooresville Graded School District are a great way to promote productive struggle.  With the right framing, projects can also help develop an entrepreneurial mindset.  
As articulated by a sixth grader this week, robotics competitions are a great way to combine science and entrepreneurship.
Coding, maker, and DIY opportunities can all boost engagement and develop entrepreneurship. We’ve covered many examples on Getting Smart:
Other great resources include the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and Junior Achievement.
The last time I visited the Reynoldsburg City Schools, eSTEM principal Marcy Raymond was converting the library into a fab lab.  The triple block capstone experiences incorporating applied and personalized learning–a great example of developing real career readiness and an entrepreneurial mindset.
Entrepreneurial mindset, as described by the KEEN network, is a productive way to describe the dispositions we should be helping young people develop. There are a variety of experiences that help but the key (as Covey said) is starting with the end in mind.
For thoughts on how to build entrepreneurship into the learning environment, see Personalized Learning Demands Lean, Blended Iterative Approach.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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