Living in Silicon Valley, I’ve had the unique experience of growing up around some of today's leading innovators and companies. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Path, Apple, and the list goes on. And these companies are only part of what make Silicon Valley special; some of the world's smartest people come here to learn at institutions like Stanford, Santa Clara University, UC-Berkeley, and more.
You'd think that there's a direct connection between the worlds of innovation and education here, but surprisingly, often there isn't. Many entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley go straight from high school life to start-up life, and one of the biggest debates here right now is whether young entrepreneurs should even go to college.
Are entrepreneurship and innovation things you can even teach in schools? Most entrepreneurs, including me, will tell you the answer is no. Now before I start a big debate, I want to make clear that I know the traditional education system works for most people. But for others—those of us who learn better in nontraditional ways—there aren’t great alternatives.
When I was in high school, I felt like I was living a double life. I was going to school and being a normal teenager from 8 to 3, then immediately after my last class, I would jump on a train and head to the office. That’s where I felt like I was truly learning—I was taking things from the day before, and applying them to tomorrow. I rarely felt that way in high school. Sitting in the classroom, I often found myself listening to someone speak about something that I didn’t really care about. My time in college, I'm afraid, wasn't much different. Yes, I could pick my own classes, but I still thought my brain was put to better use by actually building my company, which, not coincidentally, helps young entrepreneurs build innovative and disruptive businesses.
Until schools get with the times, understanding that the entrepreneurial spirit starts long before the age of 25, and address this with support, hands-on projects, and incentives, they can't successfully teach innovation. Why can't students get college credit for starting a company while in college? This was an idea I proposed during a lively discussion recently at Western Michigan University, on the role of higher education in building innovative and disruptive companies. WMU has invested a lot in building incubator centers for their students—a huge step in the right direction.
Schools need to encourage students to think differently. To act differently. To believe at a very young age that they can change the world.
Innovation comes from the weirdest places. Some of the world's biggest technology companies have the most unconventional founding stories. And that’s what makes entrepreneurship so awesome. How great would it be if the classroom could become one of those places that inspires innovation and entrepreneurial thought, as well?
This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author’s own.