by Allison Checkeye
What separates an entrepreneur from the rest of the working class? When most people say the word “entrepreneur,” they think about genius businessmen who achieved success at a young age, and built an empire of wealth. But what defines an entrepreneur from others in a similar environment is a unique combination of assets: new ideas, well-developed thought processes, motivation, and excellent communication with their potential consumers. Entrepreneurs take one great idea and expand upon it in every direction; they are masters of problem solving who can carefully balance logic with the limits of known possibilities. How do they become so exceptional? By participating in creative activities at a young age, children develop into free-thinking adults who don’t have to struggle with the conventions of hum-drum business.
An awful lot of research has gone into figuring out how creativity happens, and how to teach people in all fields to think in a more productive way. In an article written by Thomas B. Ward called “Cognition, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship,” he explains that creative ideas happen naturally as the result of using basic mental operations to access existing knowledge structures (Ward 173). Rarely do brilliant ideas simply explode into being while one is staring into space!Rather, the common tendency of people trying to create new ideas (such as a plan for business) is to draw a “basic level exemplar” from a hierarchy of ideas; where specific ideas are stored under categories for broad ideas, the basic level is halfway between (Ward 183). This basic idea, such as the idea of a coffee maker, comes laden with specific knowns and unknowns. When you think of a coffee pot, you probably imagine an electric drip coffee maker with a glass server, wavy paper coffee filter, and a time display on the front. These details can be used as a platform for new ideas relevant to the old design, but can also constrain ideas that might form if one had a less specific vision in mind. Learning to pull out more abstract information as the starting point puts thinkers in a better position to employ various mental operations that build creativity.
So, if we can teach ourselves to retrieve our own knowledge better, where can we go from there? Our new ideas all have roots in our old ideas; the next logical step is “conceptual combination,” a process by which existing concepts merge mentally to form a new concept that has traits which are separate from its original constituents. These combinations often emerge in pop culture: the trendy term “mansplain” doesn’t just mean an explanation by a man, but refers to a culturally-specific practice of men oversimplifying to their audience (usually women). Although the root words aren’t related, they evoke a thought process to understand them in a new context. Laboratory studies in the 1990-2000’s tested this theory by giving participants word pairings with opposing or dissimilar meaning (e.g. “healthy illness”), and observing interpretations relative to typical word pairings (Ward 177). Participants given the former produced ideas which were considered more novel and unique; when thinking about opposing ideas, they better understood the scope of the subject. Entrepreneurs often use this bottom-up method of thinking to reconsider what their business problem might be. Methods like “problem construction” tear apart the logic behind existing business models, and restructure a new plan based on needs. Ward explains: “Implicit or explicit in these models is the belief that the way in which people conceptualize a problem strongly influences their likelihood of achieving an original or creative solution” (Ward 181). When you undertake a goal and consider its most basic components, instead of accepting it as is, the impediments unravel in new ways; new problems will pique new and creative solutions.
Consider the development of cognitive functions as a whole. One of the more well-respected theories of childhood development is psychologist Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Theory, which began as an attempt to understand why children, at varying ages, will wrongly answer a question requiring logic; their answers were the key to differentiating how children think from how adults think (McLeod, S.A. 2015). Piaget’s Theory breaks down cognitive development into four stages: Sensorimotor (1), Preoper-ational (2), Concrete Operational (3), and Formal Operational (4) stages. At approximately ages 11-12, children transition into the beginning of their Formal Operational years: at this point, their logical abilities are finishing development, and abstract thinking emerges. Abstract thought is the keyhole through which creativity flows into the child’s life. It allows for deductive reasoning, enhanced problem solving, and metacognition: the ability to think about one’s own thoughts as well as the thoughts and ideas of others (McLeod, S.A. 2015). With the ability to metacognate, children at this age are at a creative and communicational hallmark. Exercises in mental operations needed to create new ideas are at peak application at this age. When we encourage children to really see into the world around them, they begin to use their newfound abilities to create solutions for problems, and the entrepreneurial spirit emerges.
Making creative, cooperative experiences available to young people as they enter the Formal Operational stage is as essential to their personal development as to their economic development. Research shows that areas with a high concentration of creative people tend to act as “incubators of creativity,” and that human capital factors play a vital role in spurring regional growth (Lee et al, 3). This 2004 study compiled data from multiple statistical areas to find patterns surrounding new firm growth, considering factors such as diversity, population size, education, and creativity. Their findings, across the board, were that the most positive correlation between human capital (in adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher) and new firm growth was creativity throughout many fields: artists, designers, musicians, craftsmen, and dancers (to name a few). The study also concludes that once new businesses are developed in a geographic area, they will attract others because “geographical proximity enables them to utilize social ties necessary to mobilize essential resources,” (Lee et al, 6). In short, it only takes a few motivated individuals to set a trend that will change the economy in their community. A community which will then be held in esteem by young entrepreneurs who grew up, studied, and were given opportunities in the peak of their development.
Consider activities beyond classic arts and music; there are many opportunities to be a part of local literature and entrepreneur-building activities. Write Local, a Latrobe nonprofit, presents free and low-cost creative thinking events throughout the year to adults and students of all ages. After a successful run of classes in the 2014- 2015 academic year, Write Local will be offering a seven-week class series this fall called “Academy for Writers and Entrepreneurs (AWE)”at the Ligonier Valley YMCA. A group of writers will present weekly classes on writing and leadership building, to encourage young authors to pursue their ambitions. Another resource in the Pittsburgh area is Entrepreneuring Youth, a nonprofit which offers longer programs specifically built for students with a drive to develop business skills. In 2015 they will be hosting an event called “iPitch 2015,” wherein judges score presentations made by students for new business ideas. The presence of activities and organizations like these is an affirmation for entrepreneurial spirit in small towns as well as big cities.
Whether you’re a parent who wants to give his or her children some new educational opportunities, or if you’re cultivating a young adult with business ambitions, it is always a good time to get involved in creative activities. Our neighborhood, from the greater Pittsburgh area though Latrobe/Ligonier, is an area with high student diversity and a reputation for serious culture. Creative adults everywhere are building niches for the next generation to spread their powerful new ideas. By supporting these local initiatives, we can give young people great creative potential, for themselves and for their communities.
Lee, Sam Youl, Richard Florida, and Zoltan Acs.
“Creativity and Entrepreneurship: A Regional Analysis of New Firm Foundation.” Discussion Papers on Entrepreneurship, Growth, and Public Policy 1704 (2004): 1-23. www. econostor.eu. The Max Planck Institute for Research into Economic Systems. Web. June-July. 2015.
McLeod, Saul. “Jean Piaget.” Simply Psychology. N.p., 17 Sept. 2009. Web. 13 July 2015. <www.simplypsychology.org/piaget.html>.
Ward, Thomas B. “Cognition, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship.” Journal of Business Venturing 19 (2004): 173-88. Web. June-July 2015.
Allison Checkeye is a creative writer from the small town of Vandergrift, and has studied, worked, and volunteered in the Greensburg area for many years. Checkeye is thrilled to currently be a summer intern at Write Local, a literacy initiative that inspires young writers to think creatively and innovate locally. She is currently working on writing her first play, and begins to plan the creation of a puppetry studio.