As the world and the US slogs through the current economic turmoil, the task of economic development professionals is shifting. What use to be a local struggle to attract businesses and jobs, competing against other states or even other communities in their own state, has become a battle against local job loss and the inevitable business closings. This shift, has brought the small business champion out of formerly dismissive EDC presidents and in my opinion...is long overdue.
But first let me tell you another story. As a 30 something, I remember taking my first real spelling and math tests in the third grade. Today formal, gradable tests are taken in the first grade. Zachary, a typical ADHD diagnosed, mischievous first grader and creative mind was dutifully taking his first spelling quiz when he came upon a word he didn't know how to spell. Stuck, he stood up, walked over to his best friend, Miles, and looked over his shoulder to see how he had spelled the word.
Mouth agape, the teacher walked over and scolded Zachary and told him that looking at how others did their work is not allowed and that he would be punished for CHEATING...which clearly he was guilty as charged. Zachary, being the bright mind he is, stared back at the teacher in amazement and said, "How can I learn how to do it myself if I can't see how it is done the right way?"
Zachary gets it.
In a speech given at Harvard University by then president, Derek Bok, he cited the following ways in which college students learn: "habit, example and exhortation". While I do not agree that we need to beat knowledge into people heads, I do agree that as adults we learn from: a) trying over and over again (habit), b) watching others (example) and most importantly, c) from our mistakes (and those that pound on us for them - exhortation).
Note how all of these are punishable offenses during our formative school years. As a student you only get a limited number of chances to form a habit, you typically don't work together to solve problems (on tests) and too many mistakes and you are punished by one of the school systems most humiliating and horrible constructs - being held back.
Then - suddenly - during the student's glorious entrance to post-secondary education, he is required to switch from a generalist education with a minimum of 70% knowledge of every subject, to a specialist education - the type of employee the worlds corporations look for.
Lets check back in with Zachary. After facing a problems, coming up with a creative and logical solutions, he was consistantly punished and the already difficult challenge of being an active learner in a corn-row, stay in your chair environment got all the more difficult. After several attempts at creative solutions...Zachary quit trying and just did his best to not draw attention to himself by staying within the guidelines, consistently being told..."You could do so much better if you just applied yourself."
But I digress...the real crime is the destruction of creativity. You don't need to review recent studies to see that 95% of kindergarten students are creative whereas by the end of second grade I doubt more than 2% consider themselves or even attempt to be creative.
So what does Zachary have to do with economic development...or for that matter small business. Let me connect the dots:
- Since the 1990 the net job creation in this country was added by small businesses in the united states. Large businesses have experienced a net loss of jobs even while the total job base grew through the boom of the tech bubble and the subsequent housing bubble.
- The current job hemorrhaging can be replaced by new business ownership not relocation and expansion of fortune 500 companies.
- Entrepreneurship necessitates creative minds identifying opportunity... for, from crisis comes opportunities.
- Creative destruction is occurring on a massive scale day in and day out in our education system, workplace and society in general.
These are the dawning days of the Entrepreneurship Generation. Entrepreneurship is not only our future...but it is and has been our past present and future. I also believe that Micro-credit and peer to peer financing will help us fill the gap as we face a new banking and equity capital environment as the world's economy figures out what the "new normal" is moving forward.
I also believe that entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation are the answer to the question: "How do we fix this mess?" I know others, including http://www.weareamericasbailout.com/ think the same way.
Maybe another question that needs to be asked is..."Does our education system need a new model while we are at it?"
I would love to hear your thoughts...