Gordon Swaby

So, you want to be an Entrepreneur? Or Maybe Not

If it’s the latter, it might not be your fault. Here’s why:

We’re in a time (In Jamaica and around the world) where economies are begging for entrepreneurs, risk-takers or “Linch-Pins” as the great Seth Godin calls them, just turn on your TV, it’s the new buzz word, entrepreneur, entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship.

But, here’s the problem. You can’t ask for these type of people when the school system does not facilitate them. You’re asking me to be one thing, but training me to be another? Hmm, sort of contradictory right? We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. (Albert Einstein).

In his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? Seth Godin explains it best:

Studies show us that things learned in frightening circumstances are sticky. We remember what we learn on the battlefield, or when we burn a finger on a hot tea kettle. We remember what we learn in situations where successful action avoids a threat.
Schools have figured this out. They need shortcuts in order to successfully process millions of students a year, and they’ve discovered that fear is a great shortcut on the way to teaching compliance. Classrooms become fear-based, test-based battlefields, when they could so easily be organized to encourage the heretical thought we so badly need.
So, is it any surprise that people have learned to fit in, do the standardized test, keep heads down, obey instructions? Decades of school have drilled that into us–fear, fear, and more fear. Fear of getting a D-minus. Fear of not getting a job right out of school. Fear of not fitting in.

Another bit that I liked from his book:

Answering questions like “When was the War of 1812?” is a useless skill in an always-on Wikipedia world. It’s far more useful to be able to answer the kind of question for which using Google won’t help. Questions like, “What should I do next?

The ones among us who become the free thinkers and leaders are not the ones who subscribe to the status quo that schools try so hard to make everyone subscribe to, the ones among us who do well are the ones who go against the grain. Academic wise I’ve always been average in school, and it’s not because I wasn’t smart enough to do the work, it’s because I was never interested in what they were teaching. Of course, at that time I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t pay attention to the chalk board for more than 10 minutes; the teachers claimed I had a short attention-span, but now I’m old enough to know better, so I disagree.

My passion was and has always been entrepreneurship–even before I knew what the word meant, I like to lead, I like to create opportunity and I’ve always been a thinker.  In 2005, I created Advance-Gamers.com ( I was 15): I was brokering business deals, I was recruiting staff members, I was maintaining a community of over 100+ people, I was networking with the PR in  big gaming companies like ( Activision, EA Games etc), I was receiving games to review from said companies and smaller ones and I was making money, alas not enough to feed my passion at the time–gaming (haha).  All that at 15+. “AG” as it was called by many went on to become arguably the largest gaming website in the Caribbean at the time with close to 50,000 hits daily (see Gleaner article here), but eventually I had to shut the website down because it demanded a lot of my time which consequently caused me to fall behind in you guessed it…school. Maybe that would have turned out differently if I was actually being encouraged. But, I guess we’ll never know.

Prior to my gaming website, I owned other websites ( younger than  age 15). I had competition, we competed and it felt good, I felt good. Eventually one of my competitors approached me with the idea of a partnership, I accepted the offer and up to this very day we’re still business partners. I failed ( and continue to fail) as much as I’ve won, but it has never felt that way, because I love what I do, that’s my passion, finding the area of a rectangle isn’t. I agree with Seth when he said the contributions of school are often superfluous.

Years later, at 20. I’ve incorporated a company that millions have been invested in. And I’m confident in my ability, knowledge and experience that I’ve gotten over the years that I will make it a successful one (and with the help of others). And yes, my competitor turned partner that I met online years ago, is apart of it too…

When you have a Jamaican who’s afraid to take a  JMD $30,000 loan to start an in-school business because he wants to stay safe and avoid risk, what sense does it make for our Finance Minister to be seeking money to fund small, medium and micro businesses in Jamaica if we have a nation of people who share this general sentiment, a country full of people who are not taught to think or who are afraid to think because their awesome was killed somewhere along the way, a country where one would rather secure a Job at Digicel (They can only hire so many people, and the Company didn’t start itself…somebody had to take the initiative to start it) and seek hand outs from its Government?

Instead of helping to fuel my passion this is what school was doing to me and continues to do to other people:

Fit in.  Follow instructions. Use #2 pencils. Take good notes. Show up every day. Cram for tests and don’t miss deadlines. Have good handwriting. Punctuate. Buy the things the other kids are buying. Don’t ask questions.  Don’t challenge authority. Do the minimum amount required so you’ll have time to work on another subject. Get into college.Have a good resume. Don’t fail Don’t say anything that might embarrass you. Be passably good at sports, or perhaps extremely good at being a quarterback. Participate in a large number of extracurricular activities. Be a generalist. Try not to have the other kids talk about you. Once you learn a topic, move on. – An excerpt from Seth’s book.

And yes, I am in University, but if you want to know what my thoughts are on that, then you should read this article by Jason Baptiste.

Don’t let school…or anyone else stifle the artist and the awesome in you.  Being good at school is a fine skill if you intend to do school forever. (Seth Godin)

Seth’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? is probably the best book I’ve ever read in a long time ( It inspired this post). And I’m not even finished reading yet. It has helped me to verbalize what I’ve believed and practiced for a long time. I would love to copy and paste the whole book here, but I’d probably get in trouble. Please, please, Give it a read. You can buy it here

And remember, people who change the world rarely follow the rules. I’m a rebel, I knew it all along, but now I wholeheartedly accept it. A new level of awareness

P.S First resolution for 2011 has began: Start writing about entrepreneurship on my blog. Hopefully I can inspire someone to take that leap in 2011.

It’s also unfortunate that those who need to read, don’t read. If you have a friend that you think this entry could help, please share.

Written by Gordon Swaby

Gordon Swaby

Founder and CEO of social learning service EduFocal.com. I’m passionate about technology, the internet and the use of technology in education. I am a recipient of Governor General’s Youth Award, the PSOJ’s 50 Under 50 Award, The commonwealth Youth Award and many others.

Lovingly made on Friday, December 24th, 2010 at 4:26 am. Filed under Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized.

  • http://claja.com Donald Porter

    Great, inspirational read early Christmas Eve morning. ‘AG’ at age 15? WOW, when I was 15 I was programming mal-ware (punters, phishers, hacks) for AOL in visual basic… would have been a lot more productive going the teen-entrepreneur route like you. Anyhow, good to learn some your history; I can pick your brain about running an online business in Jamaica.

    Merry Christmas; wish you a blessed and prosperous 2011!


    • http://gordonswaby.com Gordon Swaby

      Hahah, Thanks for Commenting Donald! Appreciate it.
      Merry Christmas to you too!

      And sure, anytime!

  • Mad Bull

    Great post! I agree, schools do mess some of us up! Gonna retweet this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/draedarockstar Andrae Remla Palmer

    Great post Gordon, really inspired me to really look at taking a next step with my small music production label to do other things an it really open my eyes to why i was so bored during high school an just did enough to stay afloat an why i kept hearing the whole security what not that came with school. blessings bro thanks for sharing

  • Jreemorrison

    Interesting and motivational.

  • http://www.jamaipanese.com Jamaipanese

    hallelujah someone else who has sen the light!

    Keep doing what you doing Gordon as I share your views

  • Anadeen

    Didnt get to read the entire article at once, so i had to stop by again…. Very inspirational and thought provoking… Hope u win your award… 🙂

  • http://auriesociety.wordpress.com Aurie

    I have been having this discussion with my Dad for years now. The school system has really carried the average student down a road that does not maximize their abilities. I couldn’t agree more

  • Don Giovanni

    High School was almost a total waste of my time… the S.O.B’s didnt let me do computer science because my math grade wasn’t “up there”.. had to learn everything myself and for what… adding Binary or Hexadecimals.

    So from bout age 14 as well I realized school was a waste of my time. The only lesson I got out of that was to teach myself.

    FF couple years; went to the Young Entrepreneurs Assc expo and got some valuable advice about starting a business.. after I left my job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/moniquepowell Monique Powell

    I found my self nodding in agreement too many times. Our school system generally provides us with little that is useful outside of a “desk job”.

    I remember getting to my final year of UWI and wondering how I could have made it through a Management Studies degree without once being asked/shown how to prepare a business plan or how to deal with challenges specific to entrepreneurs…(and lets not even talk about high school). Relevant courses have since been introduced on campus, but my point is that our people are not readily and from an early age presented with skills that will help them if they decide that the typical corporate rat-race is not for them.

    What that inevitably creates is a society full of risk-averse people who can’t bear the thought of not having the (false) sense of security that comes with having a 9 – 5 job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505036300 Jae Nelson

    Gordon, this is brilliant. I will have to get a read of Seth’s book. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=505036300 Jae Nelson

    Gordon, this is brilliant. I will have to get a read of Seth’s book. Thanks for sharing.

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  • kemar taylor

    Read this book the other day it is so  interesting how this social illusion is structured,  Linchpins! we are everywhere, Often pushed aside and misunderstood i applaud this  posting; there is so much to learn  from these great men seth godin, napoleon hill,  andrew carnigee, these are people that should be emulated, however the youngster of today believe that once they passed CXC english it is not required of them to continue to learning, changing there industrialized mind frame. we are not as weak and feeble as they believe.

  • http://tabooxchanz.tumblr.com/ Chanae Phipps

    awesome post Swaby.

  • Alexcia Gray

    I’ve always said that formal education stifles creativity by forcing our minds to behave like a rubix cube – set moves giving set results. I know I’m late but great article. 🙂

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