Behaviour - Entrepreneurs don't play by the school rules

3rd January 2014 at 00:00
Study finds disobedience to be an indicator of future success

Intelligent teenagers who misbehave and break the law are far more likely to become successful entrepreneurs when they leave school, research has indicated.

The findings have led the co-author of the study to claim that zero- tolerance approaches to school discipline could be stifling the creative abilities of a generation of future business people.

Yona Rubinstein, from the London School of Economics, said the research showed that teachers needed to be "more patient" with intelligent students who challenged them, and should let such children "break the rules" to some extent.

"I'm not saying we should encourage people to take drugs or break the law in any way, but it is true that the optimum level of discipline (for a child) isn't necessarily the maximum level," he told TES. Teachers should pay particular attention to intelligent children who tended to misbehave, he added, giving them the courage to see their ideas through.

Professor Rubinstein's discussion paper for the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance was based on a major longitudinal survey of 12,686 Americans who were aged between 15 and 22 when first studied in 1979.

In 1980, the participants were asked whether they had indulged in 23 separate illicit activities including skipping school, using alcohol and marijuana, vandalism, shoplifting, drug dealing, robbery, assault and gambling. The analysis revealed that successful entrepreneurs - rather than those who were merely self-employed - were twice as likely as salaried workers to say they had taken something by force in their youth. They were also 44 per cent more likely to have been stopped by the police. Successful entrepreneurs had an overall "illicit activity score" that was three times greater than that of salaried workers.

But breaking the rules, the research revealed, was not enough. People who had gone on to be successful also scored highly in learning aptitude tests when they were young.

"It's this mixture of being smart and illicit, a person who is not following the rules or is willing to push the boundaries," said Dr Rubinstein. "This combination increases your chances of choosing entrepreneurial activity and of being successful."

The report quotes Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, who hacked telephones early in his career, as a typical example. "I think that misbehaviour is very strongly correlated with and responsible for creative thought," Mr Wozniak said.

A number of US school districts have begun to reverse zero-tolerance behaviour policies amid concerns that they disproportionately affect black and ethnic minority students. Cities such as Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago and Denver, along with Broward County in Florida have all scrapped zero-tolerance because it resulted in too many students being arrested for minor offences and high dropout rates from school.

Professor Rubinstein's study also comes at a time when politicians and businesses have been calling for schools to focus more strongly on entrepreneurship.

Last month, England's education secretary Michael Gove called for a "start-up culture" in schools, modelled on California's Silicon Valley. But Mr Gove insisted that the key traits of the successful entrepreneur were "grit and perseverance" rather than high intelligence and a rule- breaking personality.

Meanwhile, an array of organisations has emerged to promote entrepreneurship in schools. Carly Ward, chief executive and founder of Yes Education, which offers courses in schools, colleges and universities on the subject, said: "Schools should encourage children to think for themselves, be creative and discover why they are on this Earth, what they love to do and how they can make money from it.

"A lot of young people break the rules because they are not getting on in the curriculum and they can find it a bit boring. It isn't bringing out their creative side and it's not necessarily their fault. It could be the entrepreneur in them wanting to jump out."

Ms Ward's organisation, which is part social enterprise and part profit- making business, is due to pilot its entrepreneurship courses with people in young offenders' institutions.

"Smart and illicit: who becomes an entrepreneur and does it pay?" by Ross Levine and Yona Rubinstein and published by the Centre for Economic Performance.


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