By: John Campanelli
Jim Clifton is out to create a new Juilliard in Cleveland.
Instead of music prodigies, this one would be a Juilliard of jobs, focusing on a different kind of genius: the entrepreneur.
It's tough not to get excited when you listen to Clifton, the longtime CEO of the venerable research and polling company Gallup Inc. His idea just seems to make so much sense.
First of all, Clifton says many of us believe the most important catalyst for job growth is “innovation.” In truth, it's a degree away from that.
“Innovation doesn't have value until a customer is standing next to it,” he told me during a phone conversation last week. “The most predictable, reliable place you can find good new jobs is with startups.”
He's not talking about sole proprietorships. These are startups with an owner and at least one full-time employee.
The special people who create these businesses are the rope on our economy's lawn mower engine, the pistol at the track meet, the green light on the drag-racing strip. These are entrepreneurs.
And where do these special people come from?
“Virtually every university has come to the conclusion that you can train it,” Clifton said. “We found that was dead wrong.”
Instead, he said his team of researchers, after studying about 2,500 successful business owners, discovered that entrepreneurs are born, not made.
“It's like IQ or your ability to sing,” Clifton said. “It's a gift. It's a neuron configuration.”
Clifton said Gallup research has shown about 5 in 1,000 people are born with an entrepreneurial gift. The ratio holds true through race, class and gender.
The research also revealed 10 specific traits that entrepreneurs possess. As you'd expect those talents include off-the-charts confidence, focus, independence, creativity and determination.
“Most achievers, if you knock them down, they need a way to deal with the fact that they've had a setback,” Clifton said. “These people are more driven. If I knock one of them down, they have a governor that makes them more determined to achieve whatever they're going to achieve.”
The problem is that unlike IQ, musical ability or athletic prowess, entrepreneurship is not so easy to spot, especially early on. History's great business builders are usually not stars on the football team or cheerleaders. They're often loners and less-than-stellar classroom students.
So Gallup got to work creating a test to identify entrepreneurs. That test is the basis of the project here.
Clifton is working with Justin Bibb, a gifted future business leader who's currently working on his MBA and law degree at Case Western Reserve University.
Their plan is to give every high school student in Cleveland the test, and then place the “business geniuses” into a special program that would provide them scholarships, internships, special courses and a mentor.
The goal would be to optimize and maximize their gift, exactly as if they were violin prodigies or star point guards.
With more than 40,000 kids enrolled in the Cleveland public schools, it means that more than 200 future entrepreneurs are in the city alone. Their potential benefit to local employment and GDP is staggering.
For now, all this is still just an idea. Similar programs are in various stages of planning in Omaha, Neb.; Washington, D.C.; and Detroit.
In Cleveland, Bibb told me he's looking to meet with allies, business leaders, potential partners and foundations for help.
Despite the fledgling stages of the program, Clifton sees the end game.
“Can you imagine if the town started talking about some young kid who was creating the next Intel like they talk about LeBron James? Can you imagine how it would change the town?
“And they're there, too.”