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Monday, October 31, 2011

How to Keep the next Billionaire Innovator in College

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, Harvard dropout and co-founder of Facebook is the world’s youngest billionaire. Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft, second richest man was persuaded by billionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft to drop out of Harvard dropout. Michael Dell, founder, chairman and CEO of Dell computers dropped out of University of Texas at Austin. Jack Dorsey, founder of twitter is a New York University dropout. And last but not least, Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Dean Kamen, a prolific inventor believed to hold more than 80 US patents dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The founder of Oracle Corporation, Larry Ellison dropped out of two universities, University of Illinois and University of Chicago. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airlines did not drop out business school. At 16 he dropped out of school.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are hundreds of unknown and unsung heroes, men and women, who do not posses college diplomas but have built incredible businesses, created value, and transformed communities and changed our world.

But how is it possible that some of the world’s most brilliant innovators are college dropouts? In contrast, the academia has been outstanding in churning out lawyers, doctors, engineers and professors. We have no shortage of writers, literary critics, historians and politicians. Of the 55 UK to date, 41 have been graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. 15 out of 44 US presidents, including George W. Bush attended and graduated from Ivy League colleges.

What is it about the classroom and formal education that enables bureaucrats but stifles and suffocates for entrepreneurs?

The global economy is struggling and in dire need of new businesses and new jobs on a global scale. Moreover, we need business that will create millions of new jobs while providing sustainable solutions to our food, water and energy challenge. Meeting this challenge will require thousands, even millions of start-ups by a global army and network of entrepreneurs, ready to fail and rise up again.

University education as we know it today is about learning through narrowly defined academic subjects geared toward high stake tests and assignment of grades. Failure is stigmatized and must be avoided. Poor grades or failure looks bad in a resume or transcript. This is antithetical to the DNA and logic of biological evolution and business. Why does education through exams and grades discount the Darwin’s grand idea that failure and error can progressively give rise to models of intentional design?

We must re-imagine education for a tumultuous, uncertain world. A world that is vastly different from the world for which the classical models of education were fashioned.

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