Sarojini Rao is the principal of Indus International School & advisor, Indus Startup School, Bengaluru
21st century India is re-discovering its entrepreneurial roots. It is now among the world’s top 5 countries for the number of start-up enterprises. However, according to a 2017 IBM Institute for Business Value and Oxford Economics Study, 90 percent of Indian startups fail within five years. Though most promoters ascribe this high failure rate to inadequate funding, the majority of them fail because of deficiency of entrepreneurial competencies, particularly creativity, risk-taking and ‘antifragility’. The resilient entrepreneur bounces back to square one. On the contrary, antifragile entrepreneurs thrive in chaos and emerge stronger than before.
Although politicians and bureaucrats who have promoted over 500 public sector commercial enterprises countrywide seem unaware, every business enterprise is a risk-bearing venture. Therefore, fear of failure is not unusual. But the distinguishing feature of successful entrepreneurs is that they have risk-bearing capability, and aren’t afraid to fail. They understand that the first rule of business — or indeed any enterprise — is ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’.
Unfortunately, despite the subcontinent’s long and successful history of private enterprise, in contemporary Indian society there’s considerable stigma attached to failure arising from risk taking. Therefore, the general preference of the middle class is for safe and secure employment, especially in government jobs where long tenure, steady promotion and inflation-proof salaries and perquisites adding to several multiples of per capita income, are guaranteed.
Yet the national development effort requires a large and ever growing number of entrepreneurs — job creators rather than seekers — to step forward to promote greenfield enterprises, philanthropic trusts and charities and social welfare organisations. In the 21st century milieu, the country’s schools and colleges must foster an entrepreneurial culture to encourage children to become risk-taking entrepreneurs unafraid of failure. Case studies need to be collated and entrepreneurial stories celebrated and disseminated.
The first step towards resuscitating our historically strong tradition of private enterprise is to overcome fear of failure which is pervasive in Indian society. School managements should encourage students to practice design thinking and to apply knowledge to real-life situations to creatively and collaboratively solve problems. Design thinking is a solutions-based pedagogy developed to find innovative solutions to problems. It was developed by IDEO (an international design company) based on models ideated in the Stanford Design School. In simple terms, design thinking means collaborative effort to identify problems, and generating creative solutions. I believe the design thinking process (DTP) should be integrated into every subject in all classes, starting with one subject per grade. By practicing DTP, teachers can compact several periods of teacher and textbook-driven teaching into meaningful experiences for students. As a result, the latter will be stimulated to research, collaborate, brainstorm, ideate, reflect and develop valuable life competencies. DTP is a life skill at the macro level and an instructional strategy at the micro level.
To create an ecosystem that encourages students to become risk-takers and overcome fear of failure, evolved educationists recommend heterogeneous teams that innovate collaboratively. In the ultimate analysis best decisions are made by teams addressing problems in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. However, building teams is not only a command and control function, it requires collaborative and creative learning, problem solving, ideation, prototyping and testing. Creative collaboration by teams ensures that projects are designed so that if a constituent unit of a project malfunctions, it will cause minimal damage to other units. In schools, formation of teams to ideate practical solutions for local social problems — food wastage, climate change, curriculums and administration reforms — is a good way to start.
Intelligent risk-taking capability and reduction of fear of failure can also be developed by setting challenging goals and planning to achieve them collaboratively. Since goals tend to be for the long term, it is advisable to monitor a project with several checkpoints along the way and ensure attainment of mid-point goals. Students can be taught to set challenging goals and achieve smaller targets to attain the ultimate objective.
In this connection, it’s important to keep the Pareto Principle in mind. In the 19th century, Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist and philosopher, formulated the 80/20 rule. He contended that if we spend 80 percent of our time focusing on the most critical 20 percent of a given project, it will be 80 percent successful. The 80/20 principle recommends focus to identify the core of a problem and allocation of 80 percent of available resources to it. This awareness reduces risk and fear of failure. These measures will help build entrepreneurial mindsets in schools and higher education to produce the go-getting entrepreneurs the nation urgently needs.
Also read: New era of blended learning has begun