Going bigger is not always better.
The product of five years of delivering entrepreneurial education in hundreds of schools to thousands of students nationally and internationally, our Future Anything ‘Entrepreneur’s Odyssey‘ is a purpose-built and education-specific design thinking framework that supports students to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test their entrepreneurial ideas in a language they (and their teachers) can understand.
Despite the best of intentions- and perhaps even using our Odyssey, many school entrepreneurial programs fail for the very same two reasons well before they’ve even begun.
Problem #1: The rise of the Heropreneur.
In a bid to use entrepreneurship as a vehicle for young people in our classrooms to ‘do good’ by tackling global problems, we ask young people to solve problems on behalf of others- a dangerous, and privileged precedent.
Genuine progress on complex social issues is rarely made by exceptional individuals or organisations stepping in to save the day – not least because the ‘common people’ affected by social issues are never helpless and in need of saving. Instead, the best solutions to social problems tend to be created with and by these affected communities, with the support of a network of people and organisations with a range of skill sets and resources to offer.
-Social Change Central
Young people (or old people for that matter) should not be at the helm of designing innovative, authentic, and inclusive solutions to real-world problems that they, or someone close to them, have not experienced personally.
Similarly, young people cannot navigate the complexities of more complex contexts without building their empathy muscle by solving problems through more familiar contexts first.
Context Level #1: Me
The easiest context for students to design from is by solving problems that they themselves have experienced.
Context Level #2: Mine
The second most complex context to design from is a problem experienced by someone close to them.
E.g. Friends & Family.
Context Level #3: Ours (Active)
The third most complex context to design from is a problem experienced by a small community that the young person is part of and actively engages with.
E.g. School, Sport, Church.
Context Level #4: Ours (Passive)
The fourth most complex context for young people to design from is a problem experienced by a large community that the young person is part of, but doesn’t ‘meet’ with regularly.
E.g. Suburb, Region, State, Country.
Context Level #5: Theirs
The next most complex context for young people to design from is a problem experienced by a large community that the young person is not part of.
E.g. Overseas country that the student has no close ties to
Context Level 6: Future Hypothetical
The most complex context for young people to design from is future hypothetical; a problem that hasn’t happened (yet) to have an impact on a people and place that the student doesn’t know personally.
It’s important to recognize that the Context Level that a student might be ready for is not necessarily in proportion to their age or year level. You can have middle school students who have been stepped through a series of increasingly more complex contexts over the course of their school navigate future hypothetical scenarios with ease. Conversely, some university students struggle to design innovative and authentic solutions to problems because the nature of their educational experience is such that they’ve never had to encounter an open-ended question that has an endless number of ‘right’ answers.
In order to build the capacity of a young person to navigate increasingly more complex inquiry and project-based learning curricula, we need to take our superman cape off and go back to the basics- solving problems that connect to the lived experiences and interests of the young people in the room.
Problem #2: We’ve done this before.
It doesn’t matter how interesting, engaging, or fun a particular learning experience or unit of work seems to the teacher, if the students have engaged in something similar before, they’ve tapped out before you’ve even begun.
In designing a whole-school approach to building the entrepreneurial mindset of young people, we need to map the context and the product that students are being asked to design across year levels and subject areas.
In this way, your Year 7 HPE students might have to pitch an innovative idea that enhances their own health, safety and/or well-being.
Year 8 English students might have to present a multi-modal speech about their own innovative idea that closes the gap for a marginalized group of choice”.
Year 9 Science students might have to prototype an innovative solution that makes the world a safer place from human impact or natural disasters.
Your Year 10 STEM students might have to use diegetic prototyping to pitch an innovative prototype that makes the world a better place.
You see where I’m going with this.
Not only is the context different for each year level- but so is the product that the students are being asked to produce. In this way, young people are developing their skills by replicating the design thinking process- but under different conditions and contexts to stretch capacity and avoid topic burn-out.
Importantly, you’re also building the capacity of your young people to think entrepreneurially across curricula. It’s not just the students who choose Business that need to think entrepreneurially. It’s not just the students who choose STEM that need to know how to prototype an idea.
One of the best comments I ever received from a young people that engaged in our Activate English Stream was when he said. “I never would have picked Business as a subject because I thought it was boring, but this was fun… and, it’s made me re-think what I want to do when I finish school.”
We have a responsibility as educators to provide opportunities for young people to stumble into new and unexpected experiences that add depth to their understanding of who they are now and who they might want to be in the future.
This is why I’m so passionate about the way our Activate program slides seamlessly into 6+ curriculum areas in Year 7-10 as fully assessable, National Curriculum aligned units of work.
At the end of the day, we need to shift the narrative away from ‘enterprises’ as the goal of a school-based entrepreneurship program, and instead focus on how we’re sliding young people further up the entrepreneurial mindset continuum through a whole-school, cross-curricular approach that builds the capacity of young people to solve problems in increasingly more complex (personally relatable) contexts.