Nothing Beats Doing It for Yourself

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BeautifulIf I told you that a metal paperclip can float on water, would you believe me?

What if I explained the chemistry behind it?

What if you saw it?

Better yet, what if you got it to float, learned why, and had to explain it to someone else?

I used to do these things when I was a chemistry teacher (teaching surface tension).

When I started teaching, I did a lot of explaining. That’s what I thought I was supposed to do.

Over time, I did a lot more showing. I set up and ran lots of demos, and I asked lots of questions.

Over time, I learned more about learning.

That’s when I asked students to run the demos. They’d describe, explain, and share, while I listened, observed, and gave feedback.

The more my students did for themselves and the more they reflected, shared, and explained to others, the better they understood, the greater their retention, and the easier they found it to apply what they learned to new situations (transfer). Taking an active approach to their learning — especially when the concepts were counterintuitive (like metal paperclips floating on water) – made all the difference.

I was speaking recently with a school leader who’s bringing an entrepreneurship program to his school. As we talked, I realized that he’s facing a similar challenge. Our ideas about entrepreneurship can be counterintuitive. Some think it’s all about the technology or coming up with that one game changing idea. Others think it’s about making lots of money or that it happens overnight. While examples of these exist, they’re not the norm.

Sure. I can explain to you what entrepreneurship looks like in our organization. I can even show you what it looks like on paper, in conference rooms, or at individuals’ desks. But until you do it yourself, you won’t really understand. It’ll be a concept – something you can explain or define – but it won’t be a lived experience.

And without that experience — one that goes from discovery to prototype to human interaction to ongoing iteration to sale/service/event/program/initiative to support — it’ll be difficult to understand how it’s about so much more than tech or money or a game changing idea.

It’s about people and commitment and integrity and trust and problem solving and risk taking and communication skills and feedback and so much more. For the people aspect of entrepreneurship, here’s a book a school leader friend is assigning to all of his incoming ninth graders for next year (The Go-Giver). Here’s one to inspire you to choose yourself (It’s Your Turn) and another to answer specific questions you may have (The Art of the Start 2.0).

But when it comes to understanding what it’s really all about, you just have to do it.

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