Dan, my eldest son, is eight. “It’s a waste of time,” he said to me when I pointed out that he’d be going back to school in two day’s time.
“Why?” I said.
“What they teach,” he said. “It’s stupid.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, did you ever need to know about a lake that was shaped like a horseshoe?”
“An Ox-Bow Lake, you mean?” (Guess who won the Geography prize?)
“Whatever,” Dan said.
And I suppose he had a point. I can’t say that any of my success in business has hinged on knowing about a crescent or horseshoe shaped body of water formed when a wide meander from the main stem of a river is cut off to create a lake.
Or the Treaty of Worms come to that.
Or that the common name for sodium bicarbonate was baking soda. And suddenly I was questioning everything I’d learned at school. Was the whole point of school just to load me up with enough useless exam passes that I’d eventually end up at Leeds University doing a Masters in Business Administration? Finally studying something that mattered?
I stopped worrying, opened a beer and picked up my book. I’m reading Chris Evans’ Memoirs of a Fruitcake. It’s an up and down ride for Chris after the successes chronicled in his first book, but like many business books written by successful people, it’s easy to detect a theme. ‘If I can do it, anyone can do it.’
Can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur?
Is that right? Can anyone go from being a Tarzan-o-gram in Warrington to the highest paid performer on British radio? And if that’s the case, why is my son wasting his time learning about Ox Bow Lakes when he could be learning entrepreneurship and guaranteeing that the country’s not in recession twenty years from now?
Because I don’t think that entrepreneurship can be taught. One of my earliest blogs was about the mind of the self made millionaire, and I stand by what I said then. There’s just something different about the man or woman who goes from railway arch to Rolls Royce. There’s an indefinable quality – or drive, or focus, call it what you will – that I don’t think can be taught. It’s either there or it’s not there – much as you can give someone all the singing lessons in the world and they’ll never make it past the chorus. Then Jose Carreras wanders onto the stage and you know something is different…
Schools are out of touch
So does this mean I think schools should stick with the Ox Bow Lake and Dan should simply knuckle down and keep quiet? No, absolutely not. I’ve just read a report which suggests that at least 75% of today’s ten year olds will do jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Come to think of it, not many of my classmates told the careers master they wanted to be search engine analysts or social media specialists.
I have to admit to being slightly depressed when I talk to teachers (at all levels) and realise just how little they know about business and how they simply don’t anticipate the technological changes that are coming. I’m emphatically in favour of schools and colleges having ever closer links with local companies.
In fact, let me make a plea. If you ever get the chance to go into a school and talk to the kids, grab it with both hands. Go in there and put the case for business, because in my experience most schools aren’t doing it. Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be invited back – especially when you tell the Geography master that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are far more important than his beloved Ox Bow Lake…