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Brian Scudamore (KATIE BOSDET)
Brian Scudamore (KATIE BOSDET)

LEADERSHIP LAB

Entrepreneurial skills I wish I had learned in high school Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Q: What do entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes, and Ikea’s Ingvar Kamprad have in common?

A: They’re a bunch of dropouts. I’m in the same boat – a classroom quitter – yet here I am, running four companies. Which begs the question, what’s wrong with school?

Running your own business is a real career path, but traditional classrooms and curriculum aren’t set up for future entrepreneurs. Emphasis tends to be on training students to be worker bees and rule-followers, not preparing them to be leaders or to launch their own ventures.

My daughter is at an age where she’s approaching high school. I think it would be great if she got a head-start on learning a few key entrepreneurial lessons in the classroom. Here are three core principles that have made all the difference for me and that I wished I had learned sooner, rather than later.

Don’t quit your daydream

Early in my career, I was running a small junk removal company in Vancouver and business was going nowhere. I was bored and about ready to throw in the towel. Then one day, at my parent’s cabin, I gave myself permission to dream about a future with no restrictions. And it changed everything.

I cooked up an overly ambitious scenario: expand to 30 of North America’s top cities within five years. From this simple dream, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was born, and today we have more than 150 franchises. The scary thing is that if I hadn’t taken the time to set these goals, I never could have achieved them.

In school, this type of daydreaming is usually discouraged. But kids should learn to visualize their future, right along with studying math and history. That’s why I’m working with my daughter’s school right now to install a “Can You Imagine?” wall, where students can write or draw their boldest plans and dreams. After all, what greater skill can we give children than the license and the resources to imagine the impossible?

Work smarter, not harder

My daughter is only 10 years old, but she’s got ski lessons, violin practice, gymnastics and plenty of friends – on top of all of her homework. Kids today are busier than ever but rarely get any insight into how to manage their time.

Time and project management skills can and should be taught at school. The Wall Street Journal reports that office workers waste an average of 40 per cent of their workday because they just haven’t been taught the organizational skills they need to cope.

It’s not especially hard to improve your time-management skills: books like Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Work Week are filled with strategies for working smarter, not harder. (Just imagine if that were required reading in high school) Teaching kids how to make the most of the 24 hours we’re all given will help them make the most out of their future, whatever they do post-grad.

Don’t fear the class clown

Growing up, I was called “disruptive” by almost every teacher. Now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that being disruptive and shaking things up is essential to entrepreneurship – you can’t succeed in business if you’re not finding a newer way and challenging the tried-and-true approach. Look at how Uber has reinvented the way we get around our cities or how the women behind Rent the Runway have changed how people consume high fashion.

We’ve got to allow for some “disruption” in schools and learn to treat energy as a gift, not as something negative. I’m not saying kids should be permitted to run wild, but let’s find better ways to harness their enthusiasm and channel their “disruptive” impulses. This can be as simple as allowing students to move around the classroom or work elsewhere when they need to. It means encouraging – not prohibiting – kids when it comes thinking outside the box.

What encourages me, however, is that the tide slowly seems to be turning. More schools are recognizing that a one-size-fits-all philosophy might not be best for tomorrow’s workforce. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg – a college dropout himself – has donated money to developing personalized learning programs tailored to individual needs and interests.

For the sake of my daughter’s generation, here’s hoping some of the most important skills in the entrepreneurial toolkit find their way into the classroom. Tomorrow’s entrepreneurs will shine brighter for it.

Brian Scudamore (@brianscudamore) is the founder and CEO of O2E (Ordinary to Exceptional) Brands, which includes companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, You Move Me and Shack Shine. He helps others grow small to medium businesses and corporate culture.

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