In last Sunday’s Business section of the times, author Peter Sims talks about how the world of work has changed in a generation, that jobs and careers have to be invented, not found. He criticizes an education system that “emphasizes teaching and testing us about facts that are already known” and a workplace culture that similarly rewards perfection but not creativity. He encourages today’s workers to adapt the strategies of leaders and entrepreneurs, who are willing to make lots of mistakes in order to find a successful product or enterprise.
I suppose these ideas are news in some circles, but certainly any musician who’s been through conservatory understands that their career will likely be a product of innovation, not just persistence. But the “facts that are already known” part of Sims’ argument sticks in my craw.
Yes, memorizing facts will not lead to stunning successes in any field. But Sims’ own examples of leaders in business and entertainment illustrate how facts can inspire a whole new enterprise. Howard Schultz loved Milanese coffee houses, so he put bow-ties on his baristas and played opera in his downtown Seattle coffee shop. That was the starting concept for Starbucks, which he bagged when it apparently didn’t take off. But Schultz had something start with, a model to draw on and adapt. Entrepreneurialism doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but with inspiration from what’s come before or goes on around us.
So I agree, go forth and be willing to fail a lot on the path to success. But the best entrepreneurs don’t shun learning new things. They seek them out, and use them creatively.