Entrepreneurial mindset in youth development – Part 2: Failure, 4-H and critical thinking

Failure is a necessary step to achieve our dreams. Critical thinking skills when applied to failure can be an asset.

 “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” - Winston Churchill

Some of the best successes are a product of failure. Thomas Edison made 10,000 attempts to create the light bulb. Dyson tried 5,126 times to create the bagless vacuum cleaner. Failure can be a positive experience when looked at through an experiential learning model lens. Sometimes it takes a change in mindset to nullify the perception that it is bad to fail. The challenge can sometimes be seeing failure in a different light. Working through failure is a vital component of developing an entrepreneurial mindset. Applying critical thinking to failure is an example of how youth can utilize the entrepreneurial mindset to be successful in any endeavor.

In “Five Characteristics of the Entrepreneurial Mindset,” Paul Keisch lists five qualities that have connections to critical thinking, problem-solving and emotional intelligence.

  • Entrepreneurs are free thinkers (some call them dreamers). They are people who always think beyond the moment and look for better, unique or more efficient ways to do things.
  • Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Looking for better, unique, or more efficient ways to do things always leads from the dream to an idea to fulfill the dream.
  • Entrepreneurs are innovative in their approach to change. They subscribe to the definition of insanity that says, "Insanity is continuing to do the same things you have always done, in the same ways you have always done them and expect different results."
  • Entrepreneurs are willing to fail to eventually win. Not everything they consider to be good or right works out in the end. However, the real entrepreneur learns from failure and moves ahead to the next right project.

Richard Branson, successful entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group, a conglomeration of close to 400 business operations, listed some of the elements young people need to succeed and suggests, “Secondary education should place greater emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving and emotional intelligence – key traits of successful entrepreneurs and indeed successful people.”

Critical thinking is essential for effective functioning in the modern world. The Critical Thinking Community defines critical thinking as a mode of thinking — about any subject, content or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored and self-corrective thinking. It requires ability to recognize problems, find workable means for meeting those problems, gather and marshal pertinent information, recognize unstated assumptions and values, comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity and discrimination, interpret data, appraise evidence and evaluate arguments, recognize the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions, draw warranted conclusions and generalizations, put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives, reconstruct one's patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience and render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life. This is in essence, experiential learning.

Applying critical thinking skills is a cornerstone of the experiential learning model. The National 4-H Headquarters describes experiential learning in the following manner: “Experiential learning takes place when a youth is involved in an activity, looks back at it critically, determines what was useful or important to remember and uses this information to perform another activity. 4-H uses this hand-on learning approach to teach new topics and life skills. 4-H activities use a hands-on learning approach to teach both new topics and life skills. A five-step experiential learning model guides the process turning activities into fun learning experiences.”

4-H youth development strives to teach youth to think within the realm of the entrepreneurial mindset by applying critical thinking skills in an experiential learning model to their 4-H projects and their life.

This is the second article in a series of Michigan State University Extension articles examining 4-H, failure and the entrepreneurial mindset. To read other articles in this series, see:


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