Formal Education and Entrepreneurship

Question…

“If you were asked for advice by an intelligent, graduating, high-school senior who has decided his or her burning desire is to become an entrepreneur and can convince you of that decision; under what conditions would you recommend formal education? College, an MBA program, whatever…?”

My answer is NONE, unless they want the social aspect of college more than the goal of entrepreneurship.

I would recommend they find a hard-nosed, been-there-done-that entrepreneur to mentor them at slave wages (or less, or pay the mentor) for however long it took to learn what has to be learned. Once you know how to run a business, market it, and sell it effectively… you can hire all the biz school grads you want for peanuts. Someone, and I can’t recall who, recently told me, “if I want an MBA; I’ll hire one.” What they teach in books and what a real life entrepreneur deals with on a daily basis are two wildly different things — illustrated almost perfectly by the situation of Kwame and Bill to close out The Apprentice.

(No offense intended to people who are really into their formal education, nor the minority of very good teachers running higher education programs, nor to those who both do and teach. This is a generalized 20/20 hindsight scenario. If the school in question had Drucker teaching everything, my answer’d be different.)

“When a subject becomes totally obsolete we make it a required course.”
- Peter Drucker

What’s your opinion?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous May 26, 2004 at 6:05 pm

I agree that people who have never been entrepreneurs cannot teach the skills necessary to be successful as an entrepreneur effectively. Far too many graduate business programs are riddled with professors who have never made a substantial amount of money in an entrepreneurial venture or even worse, have never failed miserably in their efforts to realize entrepreneurial goal. Many valuable lessons are to be learned through real world business failures. One cannot be taught how it feels to be under intense pressure to make payroll when several unpaid invoices have caused the cash levels to be lower than usual while under intense pressure to deal with a dozen other challenges simultaneously. Real entrepreneurs know this feeling and only they can offer any meaningful comments about it.

If the measure of entrepreneurial business talent is the amount of money one may extract from a competitive market place, then most professors will not be rated as the most talented. Some professors have spent their entire lives studying how real world entrepreneurs get it done, but that does not mean they can teach others how to do it. Successful entrepreneurs are the best teachers, followed by the school of hard knocks.

University and college professors may still play a role in helping an entrepreneur to develop the types of thinking skills that come in handy. If someone wants to be an entrepreneur and they want to take business courses to prepare themselves intellectually, then I recommend that they study marketing or retail and consumer sciences. However, I think it is far more effective to study psychology, philosophy, communication, or engineering in preparation for becoming a real world entrepreneur.

At the end of the day, nothing beats hands on entrepreneurial learning, 100-hour workweeks, and dealing with the dynamic challenges that are unique to every business. The trial and error method may not be the most effective way to learn everything, but may be the only way to learn entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs need to have a fearless and burning desire to achieve their goals, enough smarts to develop competent plans, and enough humility to understand that they will benefit from the wisdom of entrepreneurial veterans.
——-

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2 Anonymous May 26, 2004 at 11:05 pm

I agree that people who have never been entrepreneurs cannot teach the skills necessary to be successful as an entrepreneur effectively. Far too many graduate business programs are riddled with professors who have never made a substantial amount of money in an entrepreneurial venture or even worse, have never failed miserably in their efforts to realize entrepreneurial goal. Many valuable lessons are to be learned through real world business failures. One cannot be taught how it feels to be under intense pressure to make payroll when several unpaid invoices have caused the cash levels to be lower than usual while under intense pressure to deal with a dozen other challenges simultaneously. Real entrepreneurs know this feeling and only they can offer any meaningful comments about it.
If the measure of entrepreneurial business talent is the amount of money one may extract from a competitive market place, then most professors will not be rated as the most talented. Some professors have spent their entire lives studying how real world entrepreneurs get it done, but that does not mean they can teach others how to do it. Successful entrepreneurs are the best teachers, followed by the school of hard knocks.
University and college professors may still play a role in helping an entrepreneur to develop the types of thinking skills that come in handy. If someone wants to be an entrepreneur and they want to take business courses to prepare themselves intellectually, then I recommend that they study marketing or retail and consumer sciences. However, I think it is far more effective to study psychology, philosophy, communication, or engineering in preparation for becoming a real world entrepreneur.
At the end of the day, nothing beats hands on entrepreneurial learning, 100-hour workweeks, and dealing with the dynamic challenges that are unique to every business. The trial and error method may not be the most effective way to learn everything, but may be the only way to learn entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs need to have a fearless and burning desire to achieve their goals, enough smarts to develop competent plans, and enough humility to understand that they will benefit from the wisdom of entrepreneurial veterans.——-

Reply

3 Anonymous May 25, 2004 at 7:05 pm

Formal education is not set up to produce entrepreneurs, thus it is not intended to be a productive avenue for entrepreneurs to navigate. If you are an entrepreneur, or have any capability of being a productive one at some point in the future… you already have learned this by the time you graduate highschool. Formal education is partnered with our socio-economic system to produce good thinkers, and good workers within the productivity contraint of a role entitled a job. You study hard to get good grades and scores on your standardized aptitude tests so that you can get a good degree and get a good job.

The future needs entrepreneurs obviously, which is why you see such a tremendous investment in entrepreneurship education by many learning institutions. But the future also needs a new education system with an infrastructure that is designed to attain a new paradigm. Jobs can no longer be the goal. Entrepreneurs can be educated… as mentors do prove this ability with their students. But formal education can not educate entrepreneurially as it is configured and practised currently. Therefore, if you are an entrepreneur… save your money on those student loans… there are more important paths to travel.

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4 Anonymous May 24, 2004 at 12:05 am

My recommendation is to get a bachelor’s degree – but not necessarily in business.
You’ll need to expand and know other domains, too. Graduate degree is not necessary and
my opinion is an MBA can actually be counterproductive.

I just found a segment in The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen where Sony’s fortunes
decline once MBA’s get involved in the analysis for new markers. Most of the stocks Mr. Christenson says
he wished he had invested in in their earlier days are run by founders and not professional managers.

Another look is this article (recent, not available yet to non-subscribers) entitled ‘The MBA Menance’: http://www.fastcompany.com/subscr/83/index.html

Reply

5 Anonymous May 24, 2004 at 5:05 am

My recommendation is to get a bachelor’s degree – but not necessarily in business.
You’ll need to expand and know other domains, too. Graduate degree is not necessary and
my opinion is an MBA can actually be counterproductive.
I just found a segment in The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen where Sony’s fortunes
decline once MBA’s get involved in the analysis for new markers. Most of the stocks Mr. Christenson says
he wished he had invested in in their earlier days are run by founders and not professional managers.
Another look is this article (recent, not available yet to non-subscribers) entitled ‘The MBA Menance’: http://www.fastcompany.com/subscr/83/index.html

Reply

6 Anonymous May 20, 2004 at 4:05 pm

Formal Education and Entrepreneurship
A reader on An Entrepreneur’s Life asked:If you were asked for advice by an intelligent, graduating, high-school senior who has decided his or her burning desire is to become an entrepreneur and can convince you of that decision; under what…

Reply

7 Anonymous May 20, 2004 at 9:05 pm

Formal Education and Entrepreneurship
A reader on An Entrepreneur’s Life asked:If you were asked for advice by an intelligent, graduating, high-school senior who has decided his or her burning desire is to become an entrepreneur and can convince you of that decision; under what…

Reply

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