The Importance of an Entrepreneurial Mindset for 21st-Century Learning

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” -Steve Jobs

In her landmark book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, World-renowned Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck outlines the importance of mindset as an integral component of success. Dweck defines mindset as a “self-perception or “self-theory” that people hold about themselves.” Dweck contends that success is achieved with more than raw talent and abilities. Human beings can grow and strengthen their innate capabilities through the application of a “growth mindset.” Dweck points out, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment” (Dweck, 2015). Mindset is essential to success because calibrated correctly, it can lead to opportunities, inspire creativity, fire up the desire to do something great, and improve quality of life. But the opposite is also true, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort” (Dweck, 2015). Mindset is a critical factor in the success of entrepreneurs. As T.V. personality, actress, producer, author, and businesswoman, Oprah Winfrey points out, "Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself." One of Winfrey’s keys to success is her ability to think entrepreneurially and utilize a growth mindset. An entrepreneurial mindset is not just for business leaders, however. Educators can learn essential lessons from entrepreneurs, such as developing their students’ entrepreneurial mindset so that they can go boldly into the world, effect change, create value, and borrow from Apple Inc’s 1997 advertising slogan, “think different.”


The word entrepreneur comes from the French word ‘entreprendre,’ which means to undertake. An entrepreneur is defined as someone who organizes and operates a business based on an idea or product they created, usually at great personal financial peril. In other words, entrepreneurs reap great monetary rewards when they are successful but risk financial failure when they are not. Entrepreneurs can positively impact society by creating businesses, goods, and services that contribute to economic growth, poverty alleviation, revenue generation, and wealth and job creation. Further, entrepreneurs can transform innovative ideas into valuable goods and services in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors to make the world a better place (Kouakou, Li, Akolgo, & Tchamekwen, 2019). The United States has produced some of the world’s most successful and impactful entrepreneurs. Individuals such as Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs, helped propel the nation to economic preeminence by thinking outside of the box and taking risks to create revolutionary products and services. History remembers these exceptional businessmen as mavericks, individuals who changed the world through hard work, perseverance, and a little bit of luck. What this narrative misses, however, is that while most entrepreneurs possess certain innate traits, they must learn many more along the way to be successful. As Forbes magazine points out, there is no such thing as a “one-man-band” in entrepreneurship. In other words, entrepreneurs need to learn new skills and dispositions that will help them be successful throughout their careers, usually through experience, study, and reflection, and often with the guiding hand of a mentor. The good news is that most people can learn to cultivate their entrepreneurial mindset to achieve their personal and professional goals. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that are on a personal journey of self-actualization and improvement. As the best-selling author and speaker Derric Yuh Ndim points out, “Personal growth is the most powerful force for change on earth. I believe that personal growth can help anyone change anything.”


An entrepreneurial mindset is when the two concepts of entrepreneurship and mindset merge into one. It is how someone thinks about and sees the world and how these perceptions shape their entrepreneurial attitudes. In other words, it is how someone analyzes the world and the opportunities and the possibilities in it (Reed & Stoltz, 2011). According to the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), eight domains comprise an entrepreneurial mindset, they are:

· Future orientation- Students acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that will help them transition to college, career, and civic life.

· Comfort with risk- Students gain confidence working in an uncertain and challenging environment. They can make good decisions under pressure and uncertainty.

· Opportunity recognition- Students see problems as opportunities to create solutions, not setbacks.

· Initiative and self-reliance- Students develop as independent learners who take ownership of their successes and failures. They require a minimum of input and guidance to solve their own problems.

· Communication and collaboration- Students can effectively communicate to diverse audiences verbally and in writing. They can persuade others to work collaboratively towards a common goal.

· Creativity and Innovation- Students can analyze problems from various perspectives with empathy and propose novel solutions.

· Critical thinking and problem solving- Students can develop creative solutions to problems, usually under uncertain circumstances.

· Flexibility and adaptability- Students work well in a rapidly changing world by changing plans and adapting to new challenges.


An entrepreneurial mindset is not just beneficial to business leaders and those wishing to build a start-up. There is great power in teaching young people to think entrepreneurially. This is because when students adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, they can live a better, more productive, and fulfilling life by embracing the attitudes and dispositions that can lead to success, such as grit, self-efficacy, and intrinsic motivation to succeed. For example, according to a longitudinal study conducted by the National Research Council, students with entrepreneurial skills such as creative problem solving and effective collaboration were more likely to experience academic growth than students who did not possess those skills (Pellegrino & Hilton, 2013). Further, the Washington D.C. Children and Youth Investment Corporation reported that students who received entrepreneurial mindset instruction “improved academic performance, school attendance, and educational attainment” (Bronte-Tinkew & Redd, 2001).


Luckily for all of us, an entrepreneurial mindset is something that can be taught and learned. Although non-cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, perseverance, and teamwork are malleable, they are not “set in stone at birth and determined solely by genes. They can be fostered. Cognitive and noncognitive skills change with age and with instruction” (Kautz, 2014). Teachers can help students cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset by providing students with entrepreneurial learning experiences that allow students to engage in authentic, experiential, hands-on learning activities that require students to work cooperatively, such as inquiry learning, project-based learning, simulations, and role-playing techniques. An important concept for students to learn in developing an entrepreneurial mindset is that it is O.K. to fail. Traditionally, students are taught that success is defined by having all of the correct answers, but having an entrepreneurial mindset means that failing is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is desirable. Henry Ford once quipped, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” In other words, failure is an integral part of success. But it is what you do with that failure that makes a difference. Students need to learn to fail forward. In his viral Instagram video, titled “Fail early, fail often, fail forward,” Will Smith encourages viewers that “You’ve gotta take a shot, you have to live at the edge of your capabilities. You gotta live where you’re almost certain you’re going to fail. Failure actually helps you to recognize the areas where you need to evolve. So fail early, fail often, fail forward.”

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