As an entrepreneur, nothing gives me more gratification than speaking to colleges and business schools about pursuing a career in entrepreneurship, where innovation is the coin of the realm. I have built several businesses, so I must have some kind of an entrepreneurial gene that spurs my dedication to creating new opportunities and the American jobs that go with them.

It’s a message that I like to pass onto today’s college students and graduates.

After all, measured as patents per capita, the United States takes first place by a large margin. The late Steve Jobs at Apple held 317 patents by himself.

The United States has won by far more Nobel prizes than any other country. While we continue to win Nobel prizes, our innovation prowess has been rattled. According to the Global Innovation Index, where the U.S. has historically held the #1 spot, today the United States is now ranked #5.

I think this sends a clarion call that we can’t be satisfied with being the fifth most innovative country. We need to recommit to being Number One.

But a sobering story in Forbes by Henry Doss seems to indicate that resuming our Number One ranking in innovation could be more challenging than I thought.

In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.

“Our system of higher education is out of whack with the future, and with innovation; and it is at direct odds with what we say we believe. Not only are our universities not teaching innovation or delivering an innovation experience, they seem to be doing their best to destroy innovative thinking in young people. This is not intentional, but it may be all the more insidious for being unplanned, unnoticed and unseen,” according to Doss.

Doss seems to think that since innovation requires flexibility; it demands experience and knowledge that is both broad and deep. Innovators must be comfortable with pivoting, adapting and changing, often and without hesitation. Innovators must be willing and eager to learn anew, all the time, and to learn quickly.

I agree with his contention that students are being taught to produce rather than create, to follow rather than lead, and to fear failure greater than death itself. It is as if we said we want to create an entire class of risk-averse followers, ready and able to follow commands. It is as if we decided to teach everything in ways that are the exact opposite of how innovation works.

At its heart, America is a nation of risk takers.

Mark Zuckerberg once told a group of young entrepreneurs that it’s risky not to take chances. “In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks,” he said. And it seems he was right: If we’ve learned nothing else from the most successful professionals of the world, we’ve learned that taking great risks can reap great rewards.

Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC was hardly a “chicken” when he started his dream at 65 years old! He got a social security check for only $105 and was mad. Instead of complaining he did something about it.

He thought restaurant owners would love his fried chicken recipe, use it, sales would increase, and he’d get a percentage of it. He drove around the country knocking on doors, sleeping in his car and wearing his white suit. KFC became a fast food phenomenon, selling chicken throughout the world.

I came across a website called Lifehack that embraces the idea of risk: “With risk comes a fire, a burning push to keep you going and reach the finish line. Most times people who are adventurous are the ones who take risks. They are ignited with a zeal to reach new heights and such zeal empowers them to be more creative and prepared to win.”

In The Spotlight

But we aren’t instilling these virtues in school. As Forbes notes: “To get a job, students are encouraged to study only those things that will lead to a job; to avoid spending too much time on “unnecessary” studies that won’t help with getting a job; to be sure to pick an “employable major,” lest they be left behind for a job. The system holds their hand, points them to the future, funnels their time, energy and work into a job-related program of study . . . and then we are all somehow surprised when this highly structured process of preparing someone for a job leads to graduates who expect structure and a job, rather than risk, disruption and opportunity.”

But I haven’t given up on risk taking and entrepreneurship. But it keeps getting harder to reach for the American Dream. Our government puts barriers in front of us that often kill this ambition. Onerous regulations, high taxes, limited access to capital, and a government out of synch with the state of American business.

Today’s graduates need to expand their horizons. Think about careers, not just classes.

They need to look outside of their comfort zones. Even look outside of the United States and consider exporting to other countries. This is where the opportunities lie and where risk-taking brings dividends.

Our higher education institutions need to be turning out a nation of risk takers and innovators, and not just students whose goal is simply to get a degree.

The bigger the dream, the bigger the reward.


Neal Asbury
About The Author Neal Asbury [Full Bio]
Neal Asbury, chief executive of The Legacy Companies, has published over 200 articles on global trade issues, writes for Newsmax, and is the author of Conscientious Equity. He frequently appears on cable news programs and hosts the nationally syndicated talk radio show Made In America.

Neal Asbury's Made In America

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