The joy of whitewater rafting isn’t just about the roar of the water, the rush of adrenaline, the frothy water spraying into your face. It really has more to do with the thrill of power that comes with steering the raft through dangerous waters.
But on the water, safety means using skills practiced on easier rivers. Peter Hackbert, William and Kay Moore Chair of Entrepreneurship and Management at Berea College in Kentucky, said preparing to run a company follows the same course as preparing to shoot the rapids: you have to learn how to navigate the dangerous waters one step at a time.
Hackbert believes college is a time to focus on the basic skills for jobs that could last until retirement. In college, we learn to be entrepreneurs. And there are reasons for it.
"The need for entrepreneurial skills is much broader than even the narrow focus on starting a new enterprise," Hackbert said. "It is almost as if the entrepreneurial skill set were a part of the American DNA, or at least a major part of our cultural history. Having the ability to create and execute innovation provides a life, work and social well-being."
Hackbert developed a model for a college curriculum that would integrate major studies with entrepreneurial learning. Under his model, interested students would reflectively select a major that meets their personalities and life goals. Then they would work with an advisor to help them formulate a long-term plan. Specially designed classes would help them develop entrepreneurial skills as well as knowledge related to their majors.
For example, a food science major with an entrepreneurship emphasis would take classes designed to help her manage herself and lead others. The student would work with an advisor toward a post-college goal like running a food research division for a large company or opening a business of her own.
The art of taking risks
Hackbert said at the freshman level, entrepreneurial classes would include basic planning skills, dealing with technology, and paying attention to detail. By the senior year, college students in an entrepreneurship program would be doing field work, oral presentations and team projects aimed at developing entrepreneurial self-confidence and developing others-and that includes managing the art of taking risks.
"One of the skills for success for entrepreneurs is a strong desire to achieve," said LaVonn Steiner, president of Excel Leadership and co-author of Getting a Grip on Leadership. "You can be an entrepreneur at any time in your life. But when you find something you’re passionate about, something that drives you, you take calculated risks."
Hackbert cited a Gallup poll of 600 students in which seven out of every ten had a desire to start their own business. Many of them gave independence as their major reason.
"Entrepreneurship, or small business ownership, is an increasingly attractive option to young people as well as adults who are striving to find careers that are exciting to them and offer the potential for personal and financial success," he said.
Under Hackbert’s model, the skills that many entrepreneurs learn on the streets could be taught in classrooms. The end result would be relatively swift increases in knowledge and skills that allow people to manage small businesses and lead others.
"These skills are ones that must be nurtured through proper education and coaching so that they can be directed to responsible and enriching small business endeavors that will benefit the individuals and the communities in which they live," Hackbert said. "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Because imagination and creativity are at the heart of the entrepreneurial process, they must be taught and cultivated early."
Learning management skills
Steiner said there are four foundations of good management skills: knowing who you are, developing a vision and strategy, building a positive work climate, and creating synergy in teamwork. All of these skills could be practiced in a college setting, according to Steiner.
"The secret to the foundation (knowing about yourself) is asking the right questions," Steiner said. "These are questions that are usually not asked. College is a great place for that to happen if students will only take the time to sit and think."
Hackbert said developing entrepreneurial qualities is a deliberate process, and the skills are as important for employees as they are for employers.
"Employees create value for their enterprise through the implementation of new ideas," Hackbert said. "An entrepreneurial skill set can take an inventor’s product and turn it into an actionable enterprise. These are the entrepreneurial traits and we now know they can be taught systematically and efficiently."
For young entrepreneurs-those just leaving college and opening businesses of their own-the idea of learning entrepreneurial skills in a college setting has merit. It means less of a learning curve and more safety when their fledgling businesses reach rough waters.
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