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Paying Attention To Your “Entrepreneurial Gene”

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at October 17, 2021

Milton Adams has had an extraordinary career and life. It began in public housing in East Harlem, New York, moved around three continents, then brought him back to New York to experience first-hand the events of September 11, 2001.

He claims he has an “entrepreneurial gene” that has kept prompting him toward fresh experiences and, more recently, new venture formation. However you choose to label it, he has hadand continues to havea remarkable career. It is one that demonstrates the extent to which individual agency can direct a career, and where entrepreneurship becomes visible relatively late in life.

Adams’s career moves are listed in the table below. However, the table doesn’t link the dots. Every move stemmed from him making personal sense of where he was with his life and career, and taking the initiative to explore new frontiers.

Over a period of 25 years, those initiatives took him back and forth between the US and Guyana, in South America, and Mexico, and between the US and Ivory Coast, West Africa. With each move, he accumulated fresh experience before returning to New York in 1994 to support his ailing mother, and a brother who needed kidney dialysis. From that time, his “entrepreneurial gene,” as he would call it, found more room for expression.

As an early project after returning home, he worked on and registered two patents for enhancements in educational technology. He collaborated with another brother to commercialize his patent for a hydro-electric generator, and developed his own patent for a multi-functional dual-screen device called an “electronic book.” It was 1997, well before Amazon’s major push into the online books market. He travelled through Asia looking for a manufacturing partner and negotiated a letter of understanding with Singapore Industries, at that time the largest electronic component manufacturer in the world. However, any understanding collapsed when the East Asian economy fell into recession.

He was alone on the morning of September 11, 2001, and after seeing the twin towers collapse wanted to help his city recover. He introduced himself to a Harlem public elementary school and inquired about becoming a substitute teacher. The principal noted his breadth of experience and recommended him to a middle school that could use his expertise focusing on both At-risk and Honors students. The school closed a year later, but on the principal’s recommendation Adams was granted tenure as a permanent substitute in the host geographic sector where he had been teaching. The position gave him a regular salary, health and dental care insurance, and accumulating pension entitlements until his retirement. He appreciated the stability in his life.

At the middle school he directed a research project under Title VII of the Education Act. The intention was to encourage teachers to use common educational “constructs” across disciplines and classrooms. Relevant constructsfor example, acceleration, cycle, circulation and displacementconvey abstract ideas in a similar way across different fields of knowledge, and the team made a point to introduce one term each week in their own classes to the same group of students. The team made enough progress to successfully demonstrate a theory of “Construct Literacy” that they presented to the American Education Research Association conference in 2002.

Fast forward to Adams’s retirement in 2013, life with his new partner, Anne, more time on his hands and the experience six years later of the Covid-19 pandemic. He has kept on and become more deeply involved with the challenge of construct literacy, and prototyped an online research laboratory, ConstructLab, to pursue it.

In another initiative, he took online courses in three programming languages (HTML/CSS, JavaScript, and Python) while he was self-quarantined and experienced the common frustration of encountering obscure error messages, a cause of high drop-out rates among coding students. So he piloted a second website, an Error Management System for Coders, to help other novice coders manage and learn from their errors. Both initiatives reflect his long-term exposure to educational advancement around the globe.

Regarding the construct literacy website, he is working to confirm around 100 universal constructs that have common meaning across the sciences, arts, humanities and professions. These constructs underlie his approach to construct literacy, that is, approaching literacy by focusing on key constructs, rather than arbitrary vocabulary.

Adams’ literacy website is designed for three user groups. Juniors are the middle school students he previously taught as well as English Language Learners. Seniors are high school and undergraduate students, and Experts are professional workers and researchers focused on specialized subject areas. His website is open to any user at any level for their personal use at no charge, and he welcomes your feedback on what you see.

Adams is also seeking help in two arenas. First, he hopes to attract active and retired teachers to a) help determine how many universal constructs there are in the English language (his best guess is around 100) and b) take on the time-consuming task of validating construct usage across all relevant fields. Second, he is looking for interested institutions or investors to support the work through grant awards, or research support.

Turning to his computer coding site, Adams believes that the drop-out rate of programming students would fall dramatically if their studies were prefaced by preliminary training in effective learning habits. In his own experience, the coding teaching sites did not meet that need. People in the field of IT say it is standard practice to tell students to take good notes. However, Adams insists that’s not enough. Coders can use technology to manage and learn from the error messages they encounter.

Adams encourages beginner coders to register for a free trial, and consider a subscription plan. He would also like feedback from coders who have tested what his website has to offer. The other parties from whom he would like to hear are the businesses that provide coding training. It is in their interests to get their dropout rates down, and he will be happy to discuss a collaboration to make that happen.

What Adams calls his “entrepreneurial gene” has taken him from an underprivileged start to a self-directed career rich in experience and continuous learning. What lessons can you draw for your own career?


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