THE COMMON CHARACTER STRENGTHS OF ENTREPRENEURS: EDUCATION FOR THE FUTURE?

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

– Chinese proverb

That the world is changing is simultaneously cliché and a gross understatement. Radically different political, economic, social, technological and environmental worlds are evolving at unprecedented rates. Evolution. Becoming. Unfolding. Exploding.

Emerging markets such as China and India and cities in those markets have become new centres of dynamic economic activity. That activity will intensify.

The dynamism of the changes upon us is driven by the rapidly accelerating evolution of information and communication technologies. And this is evolution not just of the technologies themselves, but in their impact, scale and scope.

Technology, particularly that which is artificially intelligent, and notably machine learning, is transforming the world of work. We are seeing technological unemployment as organisations of all types seek efficiencies in their operations (Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. 2014. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc).

Other technologies, in the medical sphere, along with increasing improvements in nutrition in much, but sadly not all of the world, means that we are living longer. If we live longer we stay in work longer. The patterns of working lives new and old is changing and will change further (Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. 2016. The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. London: Bloomsbury).

Technologies too have enabled globalisation. The world is hugely connected. Information, capital and people now move more easily than in any previous era. Trade in changing irrevocably.

The next decade will see further revolutions (Richard Dobbs et al. 2015. No Ordinary Disruption. The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends. New York: Public Affairs).

What Will the World of Work Look Like?

It is likely that the hegemony enjoyed by global corporates will continue unabated and indeed may intensify. However, this will probably be balanced by a class of innovative and entrepreneurial organisations and individuals focused on meeting established and emerging customer needs (especially around healthcare, leisure and education).

Balancing out rampant consumerism will be an increasing necessity to responsibly address social and particularly environmental issues. Inevitably, social and community businesses too will prosper (PriceWaterHouseCoopers. 2014. The Workforce of the Future. London: PWC.

What Skills Will We Need? Variations on the Theme of Entrepreneurship

Over our working lives we will need to evolve our skills. Serial mastery will replace the conventional career. But at the heart of it all will be the requirement for variations on the theme of entrepreneurship. Somehow, many of us and especially our children and grandchildren will need to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit at massive scale.

Why so?

Conventional (or rather unconventional to be logical) entrepreneurs will always exist to meet or create consumer demand.

But, corporates do and will need intrapreneurs to take responsibility for translating ideas into products through innovation and risk-taking.

Social entrepreneurs will lead the way in creating organisations that embrace social values and create benefits to society and the environment.

Ever more vital are policy entrepreneurs, required to transform moribund public policy and management to bring out value in public service. Moreover, they are crucial to enabling other variants of entrepreneurship.

And, at the heart of all of this is the need to kindle the entrepreneurial spirit: inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage and fortitude. So too, must entrepreneurs embrace awareness (to opportunities), foresight, ambition, passion, confidence, innovation, risk-taking, creativity, social intelligence, and persistence. We must not forget too, cultural intelligence (Yang Zhao. 2012. World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin).

Are We Ready?

No.

Our education systems worldwide, with few exceptions, are not preparing our children for this ‘brave new world.’ It’s not just schools. Public universities too are, paradoxically (given their claim to be at the cutting edge, and their proclamations about providing ‘work ready’ graduates), procrastinating (bound up in addictions to state funding and ensuring that regulation constrains innovation in the private sector).

No.

Education thought leaders such as Professor Sir Ken Robinson and Professor Yang Zhao have repeatedly pleaded for governments to change the educational model in schools. Professor Clayton Christensen has called for disruption in universities, but it seems to little avail.

No.

We are constrained by weaknesses. We seek uniformity in education. Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics. Test. Test. Test.

It seems that we seldom celebrate creativity until it is too late or unless someone breaks out of the educational straight jacket that the developed world has created and that the developing world seems intent on copying.

Don’t forget, any number of widely successful people are high school or university dropouts.

And the common theme is one of creativity stifled.

Celebrating and Encouraging Character Strengths Associated with Entrepreneurship

In recent research with entrepreneurs, Bigelow found the top five character strengths associated with entrepreneurs are

  1. Honesty – authenticity and integrity,
  2. Leadership – organizing group activities, encouraging a group to get things done,
  3. Fairness – just, not letting feelings bias decisions about others,
  4. Gratitude – thankful for the good, expressing thanks, feeling blessed, and
  5. Zest – vitality, enthusiasm, vigour, energy and feeling alive

This is at odds with conventional thinking around the entrepreneurial spirit, which stresses variations on creativity, bravery and perseverance. However, further analysis reveals strengths that lie within common virtues: wisdom, courage, justice and transcendence.

STEM is doubtless important, but unless we address the issue of character strengths aligned to entrepreneurship, some of us, notably our children, are going to struggle. New thinking is need. STEAM – adding arts to science, technology, engineering and mathematics – is what we need. New institutions of learning are needed. Never was the need for disrupting education so pressing.