Is There Utility to Classroom Learning in Modern Entrepreneurship?

Is There Utility to Classroom Learning in Modern Entrepreneurship?

While certain skills related to entrepreneurship, such as networking and conflict mediation, can be taught in the classroom, the debate about whether entrepreneurship is an innate or learned ability continues to rage.

Some people argue that MBA programs can transform individuals into entrepreneurs, while others believe that entrepreneurship is only learned in the real world or something certain people are born with. We generally think of MBA graduates as people armed with a lot of technical knowledge, but when it comes to entrepreneurs, we generally think of charismatic people with street smarts and not necessarily book smarts.

The Argument of Nature Versus Nurture in Entrepreneurship

Certainly, some people likely have skills and points of view that naturally predispose them toward entrepreneurship. However, we should not think of entrepreneurship as something completely innate. After all, imagine if Steve Jobs grew up isolated on an island. Without the right environment, he would not have emerged as one of the preeminent entrepreneurs in the world. Instead, he transformed into a great entrepreneur by immersing himself in the right environment and creating learning experiences that allowed him to develop the necessary skills to launch a business. Some people are autodidactic, meaning they are self-taught, and easily find opportunities for themselves to learn rather than pursuing formal education.

The formal path, which generally takes the form of an MBA, should not be discounted when it comes to transforming people into great entrepreneurs. After all, almost all of the top MBA programs have entrepreneurship pathways, and many people have used them to launch very successful careers.

At the same time, classroom learning alone is not likely enough to make a successful entrepreneur. The individuals who use MBAs as a launching point still benefit immensely from on-the-ground learning with mentors and market experience. Entrepreneurs make the world their classroom and learn important lessons just making observations as they walk down the street while supplementing these experiences with books and videos.

How an MBA Program Can Help Aspiring Entrepreneurs

You should not be discouraged by the idea that entrepreneurs are born rather than made. Many industry experts would argue that this concept comes from a fear of failure and gives people something outside of their immediate control to blame when something does not go according to plan.

You can instead learn from your mistakes and improve your skills. In fact, an MBA program may play an important role in turning you into a successful entrepreneur provided that you start the program with the right mindset. In general, an MBA focuses on accounting and finance based on stable cash flow, reliable profits, accurate forecasting, and fixed costs. Startups have very few, if any, of these qualities, so an MBA may not prove extremely helpful.

However, an MBA can help you expand your network and build important relationships; plus, having an MBA can help convince investors to put money toward your idea. An MBA also helps you develop the critical thinking skills you need to succeed and be better versed in overall business strategy.

Importantly, an MBA can lead to a lot of debt, which will limit the risks you can take when it comes to founding a startup, so the decision to pursue an MBA should be made taking all of this information into account. Ultimately, the choice is an individual one. While some people will benefit from an MBA, others may consider it a waste of time and money.

New Approaches to Teaching Entrepreneurship in School

Some top programs have recognized the difficulties in teaching entrepreneurship in the typical MBA curriculum, which focuses more on the developed corporate world. These innovative programs have developed new ways of teaching entrepreneurship, potentially drawing in people who want to pursue an MBA to support their entrepreneurial dreams.

One of the most interesting ideas focuses on rewiring students to take action rather than getting stuck in “analysis paralysis.” At the University of Virginia, the “effectual” entrepreneurship approach teaches students to accept risk and take action rather than constantly asking, “What if?”

While asking this question can help you react quickly if something goes wrong, the processing of planning for the worst can quickly consume your time and inhibit action. The university also encourages students to share their ideas and work collaboratively to benefit from the input of people from different backgrounds and experiences.

For example, the University of Toronto has introduced the Creative Destruction Lab, which borrows from the medical school operating theater. Students watch as a panel of professors breaks down a startup so they can develop their entrepreneurial intuitions. Similar programs have already popped up at other programs, such as Endless Frontier Labs at New York University. This focus on experiential learning helps students learn how to perform analyses of startups and develop the skills they need to establish their own companies.

About the Author

Joanna RileyJoanna (Jo) Riley is an entrepreneur, investor, and advocate in technology, and is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Censia. Jo has a highly experienced background in building and scaling companies, which she attributes to her deep passion for people and building technologies that allow people to be their best selves. She brings her wide knowledge of the industry to better transform the way enterprise companies hire talent. You can connect with Joanna Riley at @joannakiddriley on Twitter or on Linkedin. Read her full bio here.