Entrepreneurial role models in stories – the impact

Evidence shows that parental self-employment has a positive influence on their offspring’s subsequent choice of self-employment as a career. But what about other forms of influence? Is there any evidence for the effect of story bound entrepreneurial role models? Well, as it happens, yes, there is!

We found a paper entitled The impact of story bound entrepreneurial role models on self-efficacy and entrepreneurial intention by Eric Michael Laviolette, Miruna Radu Lefebvre and Olivier Brunel in the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research (2012). Here’s a snippet of their findings:

 

Exposure to fictional role models favourably impacts self-efficacy and behavioural intentions if students identify with role models, hold favourable attitudes toward the message, and experience positive emotional arousal. Successful role models reinforce role model identification and generate favorable attitudes toward the message, thus enhancing self-efficacy and entrepreneurial intention. Unsuccessful entrepreneurial role models also favourably reinforce the relationship between self-efficacy and entrepreneurial intention.

 

Entrepreneurial role models

Fantastic news! Not only do parental (real-life) influences matter, but so do characters in stories. Of course, the Clever Tykes stories have been created to achieve just this – to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs through positive entrepreneurial role models. We’re hoping Code-it CodyWalk-it Willow, and Change-it Cho (pictured) will do just that!

 

Change-it Cho circle

 

Great news! But here’s something else interesting:

 

Beyond finding a positive relationship between successful fictional role models and self-efficacy and behavioural intentions regarding entrepreneurship, the same study found that:

unsuccessful entrepreneurial role models also favourably reinforce the relationship between self-efficacy and entrepreneurial intention.

This is actually an incredibly significant result.

 

The fact that regardless of the success of an entrepreneurial role model, the fact that they pursued an enterprising venture positively inspired students. The significance lies in the fact that guaranteed financial rewards of entrepreneurship are not the key drivers or influence. This, broadly speaking, means one of two things. Students, given the right guidance and role models either:

a) accept that risks are involved in starting a business and that success is not an assumed outcome, or

b) are not financially or outcome driven at all.

The emphasis, therefore, must be on the mindset and process of starting up a business rather than the end result. I touched on the dangers of celebrating entrepreneurial success stories in an answer I gave on Quib.ly, which I have written here:

 

Q: Do stories about youngsters developing apps and selling them for millions help or hinder kid’s understanding of running a business?

A: Yes, children need positive entrepreneurial role models so they can see what can be achieved through business BUT regarding this question…

The problem is in only seeing the outcome of the process of being an entrepreneur – not the process itself. Telling a child that another child has just sold his internet business for £10million to Google doesn’t help a child understand anything about business – only that someone else has achieved it. The impact this will have on the child will depend on their personality – some will find this inspirational, some will see it as pressure.

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Knowing exactly what we want without knowing how we can get it is frustrating. We must both inspire and empower our children to achieve – neither one is sufficient on its own.

Entrepreneurs are the eternal optimists (statistically and empirically) and the successful ones can look back on their achievements with hindsight, i.e. “I knew I was going to do this and that, I made all the right decisions, I worked really hard to achieve things.” Whilst all of this may be true, there are also people who will say the exact same things whose businesses have failed – you won’t ever hear their story. Remember that around 80% of businesses fail within 18 months, or so, of operation.

Once we focus solely on the outcome or result of a process, rather than the process itself, we lose our integrity – this goes for anything we do in life.

Encourage entrepreneurship in children is absolutely necessary and we should make it as an accessible career path as possible without dazzling them with the fairytale side of business. Help them understand how businesses are developed and what purpose they serve our society. Otherwise we’ll end up with a generation of businesspeople who set up their venture purely with the financial payoff in mind!

 

The main issue is that we have to inspire and empower children, not just dangle the carrot! What this study shows is that inspiring children does not have to come from successful businesspeople’s stories but from characters they can relate to who show the traits required and have given it a go. It’s clear that all they need is a good entrepreneurial role model.

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I am a huge advocate of the entrepreneurial messages and characteristics that you are driving. I think it is a fantastic idea to instil the idea of entrepreneurship into children from a young age. This is a great way to open children up to the idea of not always following conventional paths and giving them the belief and confidence from an early age to pursue their own creative business ideas and ventures. 

James Caan, CBE - entrepreneur and former Dragon
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“The Clever Tykes series are such a wonderful way to introduce ‘enterprise’ to children from a young age – I can’t recommend them highly enough, and strongly urge parents to read along with their child as there is no doubt the stories will stimulate lots of questions and interest!”

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“I found Walk-it Willow easy to read and full of lovely messages that children can take from it. It touched on taking responsibility, problem solving, admitting mistakes and also the work it takes to run a small business. Willow is entertaining but very human. A lovely story.”