Friday, 26 April 2013

Millennials less entrepreneurial than their olds. Why?

“The whiz-kid with an idea who vigorously taps out code while hyped up on energy drinks then launches a business to astronomical success is the exception, not the rule.” (David Yanofsky in Quartz)

New data from the Kauffman Foundation in the US shows that in 2012, 20-34 year olds were 30% less likely to start a new business than 35-65 year olds.


The gap’s been steadily widening since 1996, mostly due to increasing entrepreneurial activity by the olds but with a discernable decline amongst the youngsters. Especially in the closing years of the millennium.

There are many possible reasons including comparative lack of available capital amongst the youngsters, and olds needing to create jobs for themselves because they can’t get a job and can’t retire. But a third one, the effect of contemporary schooling on the youngsters, is potentially far more pernicious. 

Over the western world generally major education reforms were introduced in the late 1980s and early 90s.

In New Zealand the reforms were signalled by the 1990 major report on education “Tomorrow’s Schools”.  From that, the movement to de-professionalise teaching and heavily emphasise  qualifications got traction through the new Qualifications Authority (NZQA) that administered the atomisation of knowledge by the Unit Standards based assessment and qualification. New Industry Training Organisations (ITOs) administered the related institutionalisation of apprenticeships. 
By 2003, when I began a stint of teaching in a University Business School, the shocking effect of the reforms was well established.

As University teachers we were warned that secondary school graduates entering university could be expected to demand to know in detail, before they commenced a unit of learning, exactly what they were expected to know as a result, the process by which they would know it, and the reward structure for knowing.

I recall wondering how any of them would learn anything new, unexpected, or surprising with such restriction on insight, or risk.

Even so, I was dismayed and amazed at how risk averse my students were. They seemed to have been trained to expect surety of outcome for their efforts; unable to cope unless the expected result, the process and the reward were fully mapped out beforehand; schooled that such information was their right and anything less, bad teaching.

I refused to comply and pushed them to cope with uncertainty and risk by collaborating. I coached collaboration. The process was nerve wracking at times but the result was widespread joy at experiencing collaborative entrepreneurship. Graduates from that approach proved to be fast learners (effective in employment 3 x faster than conventionally taught grads) and natural leaders in changing contexts and emergent practice.

But my approach  was unusual. The conventional undergraduate teaching methods that predominated,  and still do, are effective  schooling for career corporate-managers and researchers, not entrepreneurs. Post graduate teaching methods are too; maybe that’s how MBAs came to be blamed for the 2008 GFC.

Little wonder perhaps, that entrepreneurship has declined amongst schooled youngsters.

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