We can accomplish very little without some combination of persistence, determination, and hard work, all of which are key elements of an achievement
mindset. So when we probe what constitutes an entrepreneurial mindset - one where achievement is assumed - we know these same attributes play an important
role. And yet these skills fall far short of what entrepreneurs need to succeed.
While an achievement mindset can drive ordinary outcomes, it takes a different kind of mindset to innovate or create something new. That distinction is
what sets entrepreneurs apart, and it's what led me to interview four young people - Charlie, Jihad, Madison, and Alex -- each of whom is an entrepreneur
between the ages of 18 and 24 and a current or past
While their passions and pursuits may be different, their entrepreneurial mindsets are not. In fact, their mindsets are similar in four key ways that we
can encourage and support in today's young people:
1. Intentional Curiosity
They don't wait for someone to inspire their curiosity or approve their entrepreneurial choices. For example, 2012 Thiel Fellow
coding apps while in high school in Los Angeles. At 16, he developed an open-source app,
, to help a
local artist avoid distracting websites.
Today that app is used by millions of people around the world. Two years later, Charlie founded
, a video
platform for teachers and students. Charlie's intentional curiosity is the key reason he left college for a Thiel Fellowship. He explains: "one of the
biggest things that I think is really important to who I've become is the ability to pick what I want to do rather than be told what I want to do." In
fact, he argues that "we delay until really late the process of finding out what's important to [us] . . . and I don't think that delaying it [until
college] is a good idea."
2. A Bias toward Action
is a 2015 Thiel Fellow from Lebanon and, at 18, the founder of
, an online platform that connects
second-hand buyers and sellers. At 13, he built websites for small businesses. At 14, he started a web design agency, printed himself a set of business
cards, and pitched his family and school to attend the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco. While Jihad's family said "yes, his school
said no." Undeterred, he went to the conference. Though Jihad graduated from high school, he admits that the thought of more schooling - of asking for
permission to build and innovate - was too stifling. Instead, he shares: "I got out of school and decided I'm not doing the boundaries thing . . . I'm
going to get out of that system." His bias toward action led him back to San Francisco, where the support of his Thiel Fellowship has allowed him to
connect with experienced entrepreneurs.
3. Self-directed Learner
Necessity requires that all four direct their own learning -- they can't afford to wait until what they need to learn is added to a syllabus or offered as
a course. For
, a 2013 Thiel Fellow and wearable technology entrepreneur, her work is so cutting edge that there wouldn't be a course for her
to take. Madison has been innovating from the time she was in high school designing costumes with alternative materials: "I was...into figuring out these
ways of making clothing that were interesting but also [efficient]." Strapped for cash when she founded her company,
, she taught herself how to code. To deepen her programming skills, she took classes at
"I did work study to help pay for the classes and learned programming, but also learned a ton about entrepreneurship because, at this point, General
Assembly had a co-working space. So I got this amazing chance to learn from people who were starting companies and just kind of soaked up as much knowledge
as I possibly could."
Today Madison is developing hardware and software to support scalable solutions for fashion tech innovators. She explains, "I really want to bring digital
fabrications to the textile circuitry space . . . I don't know a lot of people working on that problem." So she's been "developing some of these tools and
learning more about workflows and practices, so I can use them in my practice but also so that, ideally, other people can use them." Daily she lives with
the uncertainty of tackling problems no one else has solved.
4. Creative Confidence
All four have the creative confidence to believe they can solve difficult problems. This confidence allows them to live with the fear, the uncertainty, and
the pressure that comes with solving big problems on tight timelines and with scant resources.
, a 2014 Thiel Fellow from New Jersey, revealed
his creative confidence in high school, when he decided to start a juggling club. Responsible for drumming up peer interest to form a legitimate club, Alex
knew it wouldn't be easy, but he learned:
"If you're really passionate about something . . . no matter what other people think, no matter how it might be perceived . . . go seek those people and if
you can't find them, then turn people's perspectives -- create the people who have that passion."
That same kind of confidence led him to coordinate a hackathon during a college internship at Intel. Out of that hackathon, he started two companies, Hyv
and Chrg, which led him to speak at Facebook and, soon after, to leave college for a Thiel Fellowship. Since coming to San Francisco, he's spent time
mentoring other entrepreneurs and researching his next company. Every day he asks himself, "If tomorrow is like today, will I be happy?" And every day he
has the creative confidence to ensure that's the case.
Each of these four young people is hard working, determined, and persistent and, though young, they've already achieved a number of personal and
professional goals. But what sets them apart is an entrepreneurial mindset, a desire to innovate and create. They have the intentional curiosity, the bias
toward action, the commitment to direct their own learning, and the creative confidence to pursue passions that lead to products, companies, experiences,
and networks that they get to choose.
eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY)- how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love - on The Huffington Post and GettingSmart.com. This campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial. For more on GenDIY:
Gayle Allen is Chief Learning Officer at BrightBytes. Follow Gayle on Twitter, @GAllenTC.
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