How "EVERY STUDENT STARTS A BUSINESS" can breed vocational superpowers

fitness-landscape.jpg

In my last post, I suggested that our schools practice an extreme program: EVERY STUDENT STARTS A BUSINESS. Specifically: a social entrepreneurship. How could this breed vocational superpowers?

(In my next few posts, I'll also explore how this could breed scientific superpowers, and change the way that students see the world.)


I remember, when I attended the Barrett Honors College, how we intellectual types looked down our noses at the business students whose college was right next to ours on campus. We were the smart ones, the complex thinkers: they were intellectually... limited.

Oh my: what vapid dolts we were!

Reality is infinitely complex, or practically so. To succeed in business, you have to grasp that reality — and work within it.

I've found that running a business is much, much more intellectually demanding than any paper I ever wrote.

By launching a social entrepreneurship, students can learn to appreciate this maddening complexity — and to plan wisely.


Scott Page, a professor of political science (and the instructor of Understanding Complexity, published by The Great Courses) talks about the metaphor of "landscapes" to describe the "fitness" of business strategy. He differentiates between simple landscapes, rugged landscapes, and dancing landscapes.

In a simple landscape, there's one best way of doing things — one highest peak. If you start out with a non-ideal method of doing business, and would like to improve, all you've got to do is take small steps of improvement, and then repeat! Do that enough, and you'll gradually build the best business you can! Business is simple.

When you think of a simple landscape, go ahead and imagine Mount Fuji:

Mount Fuji

In a rugged landscape, there's also one best way of doing things — one highest peak — but it might not be obvious how to get there. Making small improvements — moving uphill — will certainly get you to a local peak, but there's no guarantee that it'll get you to the highest peak.

Rugged landscapes do a better job describing how a market actually works. You can offer a good service, and keep honing it to make it better and better, but still not be providing what people really want.

In a rugged landscape, it's difficult to even identify which peak is highest! And getting from one peak to another can be treacherous — and certainly involves going down before you can even hope to go up.

When you think of a rugged landscape, imagine the Rocky Mountains:

Rocky Mountains (1)

But Professor Page argues that most of our lives (and, I'll add, most business) is best described by a dancing landscape — a landscape full of peaks and valleys that keep changing.

(For some fun animations of dancing landscapes (also called "dynamic fitness landscapes") take a look at this video on YouTube.)


Having kids start social businesses might be the most intellectually demanding thing we ever prompt them to do.

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA