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Do This Instead: Why Education Doesn’t Equal Entrepreneurial Success

Dipti Parmar

Education has its place, but it may not be necessary for success in entrepreneurship. Here's what you should be doing instead of school.

Quick question: What do Walt Disney, Sam Walton, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Dave Thomas, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell and Bill Gates have in common, apart from the fact that all of them are in the entrepreneurial hall of fame?

The answer: none of them had a formal education. Not one of them graduated from college when they should have (it’s another thing that some of them have been awarded degrees later).

In most cases of successful entrepreneurship, it looks like success in entrepreneurship has no correlation to education.

The real answer to whether or not education makes a difference is tricky. Surely, though, the right kind of entrepreneurial education puts entrepreneurs through a better conceptual framework, introduces concepts that are necessary for entrepreneurship, and introduces you to the world of business.

So, education has its place but is certainly not necessary for success in entrepreneurship. According to Saras Sarasvathy who conducted research by sampling about 30 entrepreneurs in the U.S., traditional MBA programs all over the world focuses on “casual thinking”, and “predictive reasoning” a model that starts out with pre-determined goals and letting candidates find the means and resources to achieve these goals.

Entrepreneurship, however, requires what Sarasvathy calls as “effectual reasoning”. In fact, entrepreneurs start with effectual reason and only resort to casual reasoning towards the latter part of a project’s development.

Traditional education depends on rigid, pre-set curriculum. Teaching problem-solving skills are centered around solving hypothetical problems that are way too simplistic for the real world. Education depends on standards and results are predictable.

If any, Montessori or early education seems to have had a role to play for any of the successful entrepreneurs such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s founders Larry page and Sergei Brin, Will Wright or Jimmy Wales by allowing them to think creatively, take risks and experiment.

This is further corroborated in the book "The Innovator’s DNA" by Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT leadership Centre, and Jeff Dyer, Professor of Strategy at BYU.

The authors write: “The most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged. We were struck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration.”

Get a Foundational Degree, but Don’t Dwell on It

Running a successful business is the sum of so many variables that it almost seems inhuman to think how it all comes together for a few entrepreneurial stalwarts. Think of a business idea, write a business plan, raise capital, hire and manage people, get the machinery going, and then marketing and managing the entire business it’s not going to be an easy roll.

These are basics and a good degree in entrepreneurship should help you give a rock-solid foundation. Finishing that degree, however, is only the beginning of your journey. It’s no cake walk.

Entrepreneurship Is Not a Career

Traditional MBA programs have been incredibly popular in the U.S. and the rest of the world, but there’s only so much that an MBA program can do. Apart from the foundation, the basics, and the theoretical learning you’d amass, all similarity with “career oriented learning” ends here.

MBA degrees take people from classrooms to companies. Entrepreneurs create those companies. Entrepreneurship isn’t a career. It’s not a job. You don’t do nine to five with it. Entrepreneurship is an endeavor that goes beyond just work. It’s a lifestyle. It’s religion. It’s alpha work.

Success Is Outside the Box

Education tends to give you reasonably predictive environment for you to learn and achieve solutions to formulated problems. That’s why academia spends an enormous amount time and resources trying to make learning predictable because results can be controlled. In a nutshell, you’d never ever jump off a cliff. You don’t think beyond restraints that academics sets up for you. You are always in the box, and it’s not always a bad thing. Entrepreneurship is outside the box. It’s never about this or that.

Learning by Doing

You’d first start doing things in a protective environment, playing with meager resources and academic limits while you do your entrepreneurship degree or even an MBA. The people you meet, the network you build, and the concepts you’ll learn will all introduce you to the big bad world of entrepreneurship.

The “learning by doing” approach will possibly be the biggest contribution of your education. Soon after this, that’s the only way you’d ever move forward. You learn, you do, you fail, and you start all over again that is the school of hard knocks. Your lifetime continuity program, if you will.

Training Is Permanent

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation reports that more than 2,000 U.S. colleges and universities teach entrepreneurship. This is not including universities around the world, private programs, and online associate degree programs. It’s been found that entrepreneurship education and mentoring makes you a better entrepreneur. That story, however, is half the truth.

Real entrepreneurship is the product of continuous training on self, concepts, traits, multiple skills, and attitude. As an entrepreneur, learning is a daily endeavor and it’s bound to last a lifetime. The learning, however, is not just limited to academics and confined to a lab environment. Entrepreneurship is the real school of hard knocks and nothing prepares you for it as much as entrepreneurship itself does.

As you ideate, launch, manage, promote, scale up, and then manage some more, it’s just that you’d be required to flex more creative, financial, operational, and managerial muscle than anyone else. Are you prepared for it?

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Dipti Parmar Member
Dipti Parmar is the digital PR strategist and account manager at Preceptist and handles content marketing campaigns at E2M. She helps brands and individuals with their marketing while keeping their online reputation spotless.