Too Cool for School: Why Dropouts Are the Most Successful Entrepreneurs

By Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of O2E Brands (the banner company to 1-800-GOT-JUNK?) and EO Vancouver member.

My dad is a liver transplant surgeon and one of the most educated people I’ve ever known. So you can imagine his disappointment when I dropped out of high school (and then college) to haul junk for a living.

But as a two-time dropout, I’m in good company: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Uber founder Travis Kalanick never finished school, either. In fact, it’s a common thread among many of today’s top entrepreneurs.

Maybe it’s because the education system isn’t suited to aspiring entrepreneurs. It’s based on a rigid framework that stifles the free flow of creativity that’s essential to success.

As the father of three, I strongly believe that our schools need an overhaul. And as my kids near their high school years, here are three lessons I’d like to see included in the curriculum.

1. Don’t Quit Your Daydream

I used to get yelled at for daydreaming in class. But staying focused in a classroom for eight hours a day is a tall order for any kid—and especially for one with ADD, like me. There’s no doubt that math and science are essential skills to learn, but kids (and anyone, for that matter) also need opportunities to dream freely about their futures.

At our head offices, we have a “Can You Imagine?” wall, where we encourage employees to throw out their wildest ambitions. Writing down goals makes you more accountable to reach them. Brainstorming as a team has been the catalyst to some of our biggest milestones, like a spot on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and our expansion to Australia.

A few months back, I gave a talk at my son’s school about the importance of chasing your dreams. They installed their own “Can You Imagine?” wall to inspire forward-thinking and to develop productive strategies for setting goals. I checked in a few weeks later and was stoked (and a little surprised) to see that a few kids aspired to be junk haulers one day!

2. Get the Most Out of Every Day

We live in a culture of false busy-ness where people love to complain that there aren’t enough hours in the day. In reality, most people are simply not using their time effectively—because they never learned how. In school, we were taught our multiplication tables but not how to manage our timetables.

Adults have a hard enough time coping; for kids, it’s even tougher. Between homework and music lessons and extracurriculars, kids today are often even busier than their parents claim to be.

The problem is that schools don’t teach our kids how to manage their own time; instead, the day is structured for them. But if we gave them the tools to do it themselves, they’d be much better equipped for the demands of the real world.

3. You Are Different. Embrace It

As a kid, I always felt a little different from my peers. But instead of encouraging me to accept my differences, teachers called me “disruptive” or “distracted” and advised me to “be more like the other kids.”

Luckily, their words fell on deaf ears—because my inner rebel and constant daydreaming helped me become a successful entrepreneur. We shouldn’t be telling our kids to stifle their uniqueness; we should be teaching them to celebrate it. If someone had allowed me a little freedom and flexibility in school, maybe I would’ve stuck it out longer.

No one ever told me it was okay to be different. I had an instinct to take the road less traveled and I was lucky to find my way. But if we acknowledged our kids’ entrepreneurial drive and cultivated it early on—can you imagine the possibilities?

Learn more about the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the only global network exclusively for entrepreneurs. EO helps entrepreneurs learn and grow through peer-to-peer learning, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and connections to experts. 

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