Entrepreneurial role models in stories – the impact

You are a huge role model for your kids. Did you know that your career choice influences that of your kids? There’s quite a lot of evidence showing it does. One of the most interesting things is that if a parent is self-employed, their kids are far more likely to also be self-employed one day.

But what about other forms of influence? Is there any evidence for the effect of story bound role models? What about entrepreneurial role models? Well, as it happens, yes, there is! Let’s find out more.


Entrepreneurial role models


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 in stories

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, Change-it Cho (pictured) and Write-it Ryan will do just that!

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.

Question on entrepreneurial role models

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 eternal optimists 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. This is survivorship bias. Remember that around 80% of businesses fail within 18 months.

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

Encouraging 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!


What if a child doesn’t have great role models?

Here’s something a friend of Clever Tykes once told us. He has worked in school improvement in the diverse city of Birmingham, UK for four decades:

“What we know about children is that wherever they are, whether they’re from the most affluent or deprived areas, their intelligence levels are virtually the same. Their literacy and numeracy levels vary more because of the standard of education they receive. Where they differ most is their outlook on life. In the poorest areas, children are pessimists, they have little hope of achieving anything. Their parents don’t work, maybe they’re in and out of prison – they have a bleak view of society. Do they think are going to be successful? Go to university? Have a career, have a family? No – they don’t have any goals or aspirations. These are the things we need to address.”

Truly food for thought and this highlights exactly why finding appropriate role models, especially for young, disadvantaged children, is so crucial.


Final words

The main issue is that we have to inspire and empower children, not just dangle a carrot of wealth and success. What the above 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.