Entrepreneurial lessons from a second grader

In grade 2, I was a good student, but like all kids, once in a while I forgot to do my homework, and on one particular occasion it caught up with me.

lessons from the second gradeWe had to write a three-minute speech for our school-wide competition and as the first speakers started, I realized that I was woefully behind. On day one, Christina, who was a beautiful, articulate, polished young girl, and whose mom had amazing sewing skills, got up in front of the class. Wearing overalls embellished with a large pencil running down one side, she proceeded to welcome us into her world as “Penny the Pencil.” Her speech was engaging, funny, creative and unique.

I went home that night and scrambled to come up with something—anything—that would pass for a completion of this assignment. And I did: Karen the Crayon.

Oh, it was bad. So bad, I can still remember the feeling of shame as I walked away from the front of the class to my seat. I had blatantly stolen the whole kit and caboodle from Christina, sans striking outfit. She looked rightfully smug at my failure. I was mortified.

Now, they say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. So, the creators of Pinterest, Instagram and Dear Photograph must be feeling really flattered these days. Pinterest and Instagram have been subjected to mashups of their apps and platforms, and Dear Photograph, well, their whole premise has been “borrowed” by one of the big three automakers and Canada’s largest public transporter in large advertising campaigns.

I wonder if, instead of feeling like they’ve achieved something, the creators of sites like Friendsheet and Pingram, and agencies that liberally mirror others’ creative, should feel more ashamed?

What they’ve done is apply the “Karen the Crayon” method to entrepreneurship. They didn’t do any of the work, squeeze out any of the creativity or have a support system that stayed up all night to sew their performance outfit. And while friends may tell them that their idea may be “cool” or “neat,” should it be applauded as a business or just a fun project?

My speech didn’t make it past the in-class voting (rightfully so). However, my experiment on how plants reacted to The Beatles vs. Beethoven got me to the gym at our science fair (Beethoven won). That achievement taught me more about the impact and results of spending the time, doing the work and seeing the results of no one else’s work but my own.