Finding Your Passion to Make Meaning

ElementMakeMeaning_edited-1When I start working with kids and adults on entrepreneurship one of the first things I work on is choosing a business idea that they will develop. They usually attend a class or a camp because they want to start a business and so it’s important to keep their excitement level high and help them to move forward. Some students know what they want to do but are not sure if it is the right idea and some students don’t even have an idea – they may have always wanted to start a business. The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you can get to choose what you do and how you do it. To help figure this out we start with 3 questions: 1) Do you have passion for your business idea 2) Do you have competence (knowledge & expertise) for your business idea? and 3) Does it make meaning and solve a problem that people will pay for? Let’s break down the 3 questions.

 1)     Do you have a passion for your business idea? If it is something you are passionate about; you will want to spend time on it and it won’t seem like work. Ask yourself, is it something you like to do in your spare time or is it something you daydream about? Running a business is not easy and requires a lot of focus and hard work to make it successful so the more passionate you are about the idea, the more you will stay with it. Finding your passion is just part of it – you will want to go further and ask yourself if your natural ability compliments your passion. Think about a time when you were so immersed in an activity that time flew by and you didn’t even know it. Athletes sometimes refer to this as being “In the Zone”, Mihaly Czikszenthmihalyi refers to as Flow (recently this has been associated with video game players) and Sir Ken Robinson refers to as “The Element” (highly recommended reading for anyone involved in teaching). This YouTube video is an excellent explanation of what The Element is: http://youtu.be/mqOL20t0NF4. If you are having trouble coming up with a business idea, you might want to reflect on what your passions are and when you have been in your “element”.

2)      Do you have competence (knowledge or expertise) for your business idea? People trust others who are have expertise, competency and knowledge. They need to feel like they can trust you and without these things they are probably not going to do business with you. This doesn’t mean that this may not be a good business idea for you; it just means that you may need more training or experience to become competent. If that is your passion and you have innate ability or talent for it – then you will have the motivation to increase your knowledge or competency in that area. I recently attended a seminar where Stephen M.R. Covey, the author of the “The Speed of Trust” spoke. He talked about how trust starts with trusting yourself and that entrepreneurs are usually good at it. He then goes on to explain that both character and competency are important.  Here is a short YouTube video with a good explanation of trust from his leadership perspective: https://youtu.be/SgjSOzY86tI.

 3)     Does your business idea make meaning/ solve a problem? Guy Kawasaki, Author of the “Art of the Start”, states that most companies that set out to make meaning will make money but if they start out to make money, they will usually fail. Here is a short video in which Guy Kawasaki talks (to students at Stanford University) about making meaning in business http://youtu.be/lQs6IpJQWXc. Recently I read “all in startup” by Diana Kander (which I highly recommend for anyone thinking about starting a business). In the book she talks about solving problems. She talks about a minor headache problem vs. a migraine sized problem. Migraine sized problems are the ones people are willing to pay money for. If people won’t pay money for your solution – then it isn’t a big enough problem and most likely not a viable business.

The answers to these 3 questions should help give you a start on finding a business idea that you are passionate about, uses your natural abilities and helps you make meaning in the world. Once your idea is chosen then it is time to get to work and become a business creator! (more on that in a future blog post).

 Here’s a quote from Ken Robinson that I think really describes what Element is:

“When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being. Being there provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining who they really are and what they´re meant to be doing with their lives.

– Ken Robinson

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Failure may be the Best Option

Success Or Failure Directions On A Signpost

 

Having a son who is a junior in high school means that college visits are on the family schedule. A few weeks ago, we toured a college where the Dean of Students told us something that really stuck with me. Since they are a private college, they have a requirement to have at least a 70% placement rate in all of their majors. He went on to tell us that it isn’t a struggle to obtain this but it is a struggle to get the graduates to apply. There are several reasons for this but he stated that one big reason is that the students are afraid to fail; they are afraid they will not get the job so they just don’t apply. At first, this shocked me, but then I started thinking about it – we are bringing our kids up in a world where everyone is a winner (are we doing them a disservice??).

When I was growing up, there were winners and losers; it wasn’t always fun but it was reality. We learned at young age if we wanted an award, we had to work hard and do our best work to get it. I didn’t even get my first trophy until I was over 30 years old (when everyone on the team got one too). Now we give everyone a trophy – my youngest son even got a trophy his first year of playing t-ball (along with everyone on the team) from his coach. The problem with making everyone a winner is that kids never learn resilience and the hard work that it actually takes to win. Don’t get me wrong, some kids do learn this at a young age and it isn’t always pretty. Being a scout leader for many years, I have seen my share of kids losing at the Pinewood Derby. There are few winners and many losers (and unfortunately many competitive parents who help their kids win). And of course, in sports (especially individual sports), there are always winners and losers. It is how we teach them to deal with losing that makes the difference.

Think of all the successful entrepreneurs, artists and sports people who have had multiple failures and still succeeded. If they hadn’t had the resiliency to keep trying, we would not even know their names or have benefited from their achievements. If you Google “Successful entrepreneurs (or people) that have failed,” you will get thousands of articles. This Business Insider article provides some insight of some of the people we are most familiar with http://www.businessinsider.com/successful-people-who-failed-at-first-2014-3 . Among them, a few of my favorites include Oprah (fired from her first television job), Walt Disney (who was told he lacked imagination) and Sir James Dyson (who went through 5,126 prototypes before creating the Dyson vacuum).  Can you imagine not having Oprah, Disneyland/World and Dyson vacuums?? Their resilience shows us that we can learn from failure and in fact, may have been the best option.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the decline of young entrepreneurs in the U.S. http://www.wsj.com/articles/endangered-species-young-u-s-entrepreneurs-1420246116 the article doesn’t give specifics on the reasons why, but eludes that financial challenges and a low tolerance for risk may be among the main reasons. Entrepreneurs rarely come up with the perfect idea or product, the first time out so they are forced to learn from their failures. If they have a low tolerance for risk whether it is financial or other and if young people are afraid to fail, then we may be facing a decrease in young entrepreneurs for quite some time. But if we can start teaching entrepreneurship at a young age and help them to learn that failure is okay and may actually be the best option for learning we may be able save this endangered species.

5 Myths of why teachers may not be teaching entrepreneurship

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to local 8th graders at a career day event. They asked a lot of great questions and were very engaged – I was very impressed with the school as they have a special program that helps kids who want to go to college. Many of the kids said it was their favorite class – it helps them with study habits, note taking and other things that will improve their chances of success. After the presentation, I spoke to the career director and asked if they taught entrepreneurship. She brought up some concerns about entrepreneurship which disturbed me and thus serve as the basis for this blog post.

Myth #1: Entrepreneurs don’t need an education.

-Nothing could be farther from the truth – in order to run a business; you not only need the knowledge in your area of expertise (which should definitely be at a very advanced level), you need math (for budgeting, projections, daily operations), accounting (minimum of a basic level), communication (both oral and written), and marketing knowledge including internet and social media marketing. You will need to know business operations, customer service and where to find the help you need at any given time. You also need to know your own strengths and weaknesses and how solve problems creatively. Are there successful entrepreneurs without a college education – of course there are but they are in the minority. A college degree also gives you credibility that you have acquired a certain level of knowledge. When you first start out – you will most likely have to bootstrap and run most of the business on your own (until you reach a certain level of sales so that you can pay others) so education is one key that will open doors!

Myth #2: Entrepreneurship doesn’t fit neatly in a box.

-I guess you could say that is true because it actually fits into many boxes. I can’t think of anytime in my life that I have learned more than when I was running a business. Since running a business includes knowledge from so many disciplines, you can incorporate it into almost any academic subject. In science, you definitely have to use creative problem solving. To figure out sales, costs and net income you utilize mathematics, to create a marketing message you need to read and write and to get your message across to customers you utilize both oral and written communication. Sure, it will take a little ingenuity to incorporate entrepreneurial activities into an existing curriculum (that is what the Biz Ops game does) and debrief around it – but won’t it be worth the effort when the kids are engaged and motivated to learn!

Myth #3: I’m not experienced as an Entrepreneur so how can I teach it?

-The good thing about entrepreneurs is that they are a group that loves to share their knowledge. Most entrepreneurs go into business to solve a problem and help others so they are more than willing to help out in the classroom (you just have to ask). There are also many non-profit organizations such the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, and Women Business Centers that are available to help with providing guest speakers on starting a business or business planning. For curriculum, Junior Achievement has developed curriculum that fits into different grades and there are many books and games available including More Than a Lemonade Stand and the Biz Ops Game that have already been classroom tested. So even though you may not have business experience, the resources are there to help you provide a unique classroom experience for your students.

Myth #4: Many new businesses fail – I don’t want my students to fail

It is definitely true that the majority of businesses fail within the first 3 years of opening their doors. There are also many reasons for this. One big reason is that many people go into business because they have a passion for something or a talent in something and don’t realize how hard it is to run a business. They don’t get the training they need to succeed in running the business and so it ends in failure.  Another big reason is that don’t test their idea before putting it into action. Just because you think it is a great idea, doesn’t mean people will pay for it.  It must be a big enough problem that people will part with their money before and buy it; so testing is crucial. If we can start teaching our students some of these entrepreneurial lessons at a young age, they will have less chance of failure if they start a business. Also, if we can teach them that failure is something that we can learn from and improve and move forward; our students will be more resilient when they do come across failure in their lives (which is inevitable).

Myth #5 – Becoming an Entrepreneur is only one career option.

        The great thing about teaching entrepreneurship is that they don’t just help kids learn how to run a business, they help them learn about their self, their passions and talents and how to utilize them to help others and create a better world for all of us. Isn’t that really what we all want – is a world of happy adults who contribute to our society in a positive way. Teaching entrepreneurship includes teaching innovation, creativity, collaboration, communication and problem-solving which are all 21st century skills that can be applied to any career path they choose (and employers will definitely appreciate the kids knowing them). The first step of becoming an entrepreneur is learning what your own unique gifts are and how you can make a difference. This increases their confidence and self-esteem and chances of success that may not have had in a traditional classroom environment. I have witnessed many middle-school aged kids come to camp change from a shy introverted kid and transform into a confident young business person communicating their ideas with passion in just one week. Knowing that they have this capability to make a difference using their unique gifts will help them in any career option they choose.

Lemonade Stand a symbol of youth entrepreneurship!

LemonHeadsLemonadeStand

One of my favorite Lemonade Stand Posters from the youth entrepreneur camp.

I often get asked why you don’t use a more complicated business in your youth
entrepreneur camps. My response is usually something like: who doesn’t love to
visit a lemonade stand on a hot summer day. They usually shake their head in
agreement and then go on with their day. But if you stop to think about it, the
lemonade stand is an icon for youth entrepreneurship. Many successful
entrepreneurs started out when they were a kid. It might not have been a
lemonade stand (although I bet many did try one at one time), it may have been
a lawn care, pet care, paper route, or babysitting business. The answer I give
really relates to knowing that it’s almost a guarantee that on a hot summer day
there will be thirsty customers ready to buy some lemonade which is the first
step to any successful business (create a product that you know your customers
want)! A lemonade stand is familiar – everyone knows what it is and so the
campers don’t have to learn about what the product is they can then focus on
creating a brand, picking their product (what flavor, etc.), pricing their
product, marketing their product, selling their product, recording their sales
and giving the customer a great experience. These are things that every
business has to do so they are learning the basics of business and they do it
as a team. The fact that they are raising money for the youth entrepreneur camp
scholarship fund teaches them that they can make a difference by helping
someone who can’t afford to attend the entrepreneur camp to have the ability to
attend. The team competition makes it that much more fun for the kids as they
not only compete for the most sales but also for best customer service, best
tasting, best team work and best display. The kids are extremely clever with
their branding, marketing and delivery systems – you would be amazed if you
came to lemonade day at the camp. Since they have been learning about creating
their own business and running a business simulation earlier in the youth
entrepreneur camp – the lemonade stand gives them the real world experience to
bring it all together! It is so much fun for the kids they don’t even realize
how much they have learned until we get back and debrief! No wonder that is the
favorite activity of the campers year after year. Wouldn’t it be fun to have an
adult lemonade stand competition and even an adult entrepreneur camp for that
matter :)!

Entrepreneur Presentation

Compelling Reasons for Entrepreneurship at a Young Age

Entrepreneur Presentation

presenting at youth entrepreneur camp

Disengagement and Drop outs

I’m sure if you have a school-aged child, you have asked them “how was your day?”  The reply is usually (if they are a boy anyway), “fine”.  So of course you probe a bit more and you find out that in 3 of the 6 classes they watched movies.  It seems to be a Friday trend in some of my son’s high school classes.  “Oh,” I say, “they must be about what you are learning in class.”  He replies, “I’m not sure”.  Is that because he’s not paying attention or is the teacher not making the connection for him.   That is a question that may never be answered for me.  I really don’t remember being that many movies when I was in school – maybe I was napping at the time?! It does seem like there are a lot of movies and other non-related activities that are in our daily conversations enough so that I sometimes just have to wonder if they are just finding things to do to make sure they filling up the required hours that the kids have to attend public school.  Another thing I certainly don’t remember when I was in school; is sitting on one side of the table facing the librarian when they are using the library. Now these things may have changed since Columbine; but it sure seems like our schools have become more robot like, if not even more prison like.  From these statements, one might think I’m anti-education but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Both my undergrad and graduate degrees are in education and I truly believe that education is the key to opening doors in the future.  But, I see current high school as a game that you need to learn to play and beat in order to excel at it.  Many kids (including my son – who is an avid gamer) do not see any value in beating the game of school.  Unfortunately, I think there are many kids just like him that just get through it so they can get to the next phase of their lives.  Many of these kids are very bright, they just may not be good test takers, are bored, or just don’t see how it connects to real life. But even worse is there are 3.0 million (8.1% in October 2009) 16-24 year olds in the US that have dropped out and have not earned a HS diploma or GED (US Department of Education, Center of Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences).  Even worse is that as many as 1 in 10 young male dropouts end up in jail or juvenile detention compared to 1 in 35 of those who have graduated from high school (NY times, by Sam Dillon on October 8, 2009; based on a study at Northeastern University).

Youth Unemployment

In the NY Times article above, Andrew Sum –director for the center for labor market studies at Northeastern University ,  brings forth another problem and uses his own city of Gary, Indiana to illustrate what is happening for youth unemployment. He states, “Back in the 1970s, my friends in Gary would quit school in senior year and go to work at U.S. Steel and make a good living, and young guys in Michigan would go to work in an auto plant,” he said. “You just can’t do that anymore. Today, you have a lot of dropouts who are jobless year round.” In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that unemployment for youth ages 16-24 rose to 19.7 million in July 2013. Only 50.7% of that age group was employed in July 2013 at the peak of summer employment. The rate was even higher for the age group of 16-19 year olds and doesn’t look as if it will be improving in 2014.

Why Middle School?

I often get asked why do I love working with middle-school aged kids – to be honest, when I first started it was because I kind of fell into it – it was the program we had that I adopted and it was geared toward middle-school kids.  But now, that I look back on my life, I say it is the perfect age to learn about entrepreneurship – their minds are open to new ideas and change and they still believe that they can do anything. When I was in middle school, I made a decision that changed my life (although I didn’t realize until years later). I was born with club feet and my right foot was deformed and the Achilles tendon was much shorter on the right side. At age 3, I had an operation to lengthen my Achilles tendon and straighten my right foot. I wore leg braces until I was 8 years old and then continued with night braces and corrective shoes. Of course because of the braces, I was bullied when I was young. When I was in 7th grade, I overheard my mom and the doctor talking about what to do next. The doctor told my mom that he had done what he could and it was really up to me. They didn’t know I overheard them but it was it was the best thing that could have happened. I made up my mind that I was going to walk without using any correction and that is pretty much what I did.  I was fortunate to learn, at a young age, that I could do pretty much whatever I put my mind to and realize that others can learn at this age also.

How Youth Entrepreneurship can help

It is a time for transition – this is the time kids are finding their place and the more successful they are the more confident they will become. This is a time where kids might not feel as they fit in anywhere and entrepreneurship is about making their own place in the world.  Entrepreneurship connects the academic subjects with the real world.  When you learn about running a business you are using math, english, writing and science.  When I ran my business in my 20’s, I learned more during those 3 years than any other 3 year period in my life. Entrepreneurship allows kids to explore what they are good at and like to do as a viable career option. In school, they give kids all these assessments and then try to guide them into one of those “quadrants” as the only viable career areas.  This may or may not be something they are interested in or passionate about. Entrepreneurs are vital to today’s economy.  The Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that small businesses make up over half of the private workforce in the US. Yet many of the skills need to create successful entrepreneurs are not taught in schools. Entrepreneurship is about solving problems and creativity. In today’s world, we need problem solvers and the entrepreneurial mindset is about looking at problems and turning them into opportunities that we can solve to make our lives better. Entrepreneurship is about empowerment. When the kids come to the youth entrepreneur camp I run on the first day, many of them are timid and quiet, you can see the growth during the week and by the fifth day, they present their own business idea in front of their peers.  That is quite an accomplishment in one week.  They can take that accomplishment with them and realize they can do more than they may have thought possible.  Entrepreneurship is about giving back.  In the camp, we raise funds in the team lemonade stand competition for the camp scholarship fund so that kids who can’t afford to attend can have the same opportunity. Entrepreneurship is a career.  One of the most important things we teach is that entrepreneurship is a viable job.  So if you can’t get a job, you can create your own.  After all, if you have lemons, what do you do – make lemonade and then of course sell it!

Lemon

Throwing a Wrench in the Works

From what all the experts say, writing a book is the number #1 way to build your credibility.  When I was thinking about starting a youth entrepreneur camp business, it never occurred to me that I would be writing a book.  Then I went to Experts Academy with Brendon Burchard, he brought to the stage Rick Frishman from Morgan James publishing telling us that the number #1 way to build credibility was to publish a book.  Talk about throwing a wrench in the works; did I need to stop working on my business and write a book?  The really funny thing is when I woke up the next morning, there I was at my computer writing (a book).

I remember looking back about 6 years ago when I was going to go back to school after leaving corporate America. I wanted to get recertified in elementary education so I could go back into teaching. An advisor at UW-Madison said to me, “you should think about graduate school.”  Mind you, I was 47 years old; another wrench in the works?!  Okay that was a bit of a regression but I do have a point here.

Anyway, I have been working on my book (really my book proposal which is what you have to do first), and it is not only interesting and challenging but doing the research for it will definitely make my business idea better in the end.  In the book proposal, you have to look at competitive books, how you are going to market your book, and who you are going to market to.  These are very important in business and researching them for the book will definitely help me in the long run.

Now, back to my earlier point – maybe sometimes we need to have a wrench thrown in the works to get us looking at things from another perspective and help us move forward!

Lemon

My entrepreneurial journey begins!

Since this e-seedling is a business about cultivating tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.  I think it is only fit to start with a post of documenting my entrepreneurial journey of getting this new business going.  It’s exciting to start a business in today’s age but it is also challenging. There are so many resources out there to help get your business started and technology is readily available.  But is with these resources that the challenges come.  Just customizing a WordPress template can be challenge in itself :).  So I hope you follow along with my entrepreneurial journey as we learn together!

Julie Wood

Chief Cultivator, E-seedling, LLC