Stanford is a world leader university for innovation and entrepreneurship. And right there, in Stanford, many think that entrepreneurship can be learned. It is not a matter of innate talent, then, but of an ability that can be picked and trained with hard work and dedication.
In an article posted recently on eCorner, the Stanford’s platform for digital education, the author supports his theory imagining what the next Steve Jobs will be like. Just like the former CEO of Apple did not have a major in engineering, nor was an expert in any particular discipline, so will the next breakthrough innovator be. More than his theoretical knowledge, Steve Jobs had the innovator’s mind-set, and this was the key to lead the digital revolution we live still today.
The author’s critique to traditional university systems has to do with the tendency to concentrate knowledge in academic silos. We are used to study a certain topic, we major in that topic and within its borders we are bound to stay, more or less forever.
According to Richard Miller, president of the Olin College of Engineering, innovation happens where three objectives overlap: feasibility, viability and desirability. But at a typical university, most of the students who focus on feasibility (can it be done?) are in the engineering school, while the students concerned with viability (is it financially possible?) are working on MBAs. Meanwhile, the students who care most about desirability (people’s emotions) are usually found in the humanities and social sciences.
Separate worlds, fragmented knowledge.
Yet, some will argue that entrepreneurship is still more art than science, at times requiring improvisation in the face of unique and uncertain situations. But there are obvious characteristics that successful entrepreneurs tend to share. Among them are:
- a personal passion to solve a problem;
- a vision for what’s innovative;
- the skills to build a product or service, and a business around it;
- the tenacity to constantly seek feedback, iterate and pivot;
- the ability to empathize with and inspire those around you.
All this can be taught. Or at least, we can pass down to students the desire to explore what’s outside their backyard, to look beyond their usual field, to imagine different, but nonetheless interesting, realities.
Change will come through people first, and only then will this involve university as an institution. We can and must train entrepreneurs who are willing to become advocates of innovation in their fields, able to mesh their skills with others’.
Only by doing so could we educate a generation of entrepreneurs and professionals 4.0 and smart enough to keep the pace of change.