The other day, Michael Pope and I were having a discussion about what an entrepreneur learns in business school and what aspects may be omitted. We decided to challenge ourselves by drawing up a list that may help you in your development. I will cover the aspects that you won’t learn in business school while he is going to take a look at aspects that you will be taught in that particular environment. So here are the things I came up with:
Business schools don’t teach you how to deal with people. You can learn about organizational management, rules for employees, advice on buying, selling and leadership in business school. But how can empathy be taught? How and where can an entrepreneur learn more about people’s feelings, in a classroom or in a working environment first-hand? Imagine it’s something like the television show “Lie to Me” where you need to be aware of facial expressions to recognize and determine the difference between satisfaction and unfulfillment or truth and lies. Many of us won’t be able to do that in a lifetime, but for the lucky ones that will, it is going to be a clear advantage in the business environment. Another eloquent example is how you can determine who is a long-term ally or an enemy. I cannot remember an instance where business schools teach you the basics of self interests like starting business communication with “you” instead of “I” and firstly focusing on the benefits for “the reader or listener” instead of your own. The right way to sell something is by first listening and trying to solve people’s problems. Sadly, despite the fact that there are some schools that may try to do this, most of them fail.
Business schools cannot really manage the difference between right and wrong. Although all business schools have “ethics” in their curriculum, it is rather difficult to live by it, given the different views and socio-political constraints. Ethics has a very versatile meaning, each of us understanding it in our own way.
In my opinion, a business that focuses on helping the community, supporting their employees and customers, is proactive towards the protection of the earth and environment will have better results in the long run.
Another key aspect that will help you on your journey is fair-play. It may not bring you a lot of benefits, but it surely won’t bring any harm either. Being fair is important for establishing alliances or partnerships that will lead to the success of both parties involved. Double-crossing people is not really a successful business model. Yes, it may help you on a short-term basis, but it will also lead to constantly doubting your partners. Still, can it be taught? I definitely believe it can’t. I welcome anyone to prove me otherwise.
Take away all the smoke and mirrors about how passion, persistence and perseverance drives an entrepreneur to success and all you’re left with are some questions: How do you put business in the right order or priorities? Is there a class that teaches how it’s easier for you to find a new job or build a new company than getting a new spouse? If there is one, my apologies. Business schools do not really put all that much emphasis on life but would rather teach you that, by starting a business, you will be able to get financed and find a way out. This leaves us to conclude that “lifestyle business” isn’t all that important. By the way, is there a 101 class that teaches you how to decide between an important meeting at the office and your son’s soccer game? Why isn’t there a class to tell you the story about the entrepreneur that was so obsessed with his or her job but ended up losing everything? This is quite a common situation and future entrepreneurs should be aware of it.
Managing risk is also a key component of what should be taught in school. I’m not referring to the technical aspects of risk management, but rather how to cope with living with risk. Most business schools excel at teaching mathematical tools on how to evaluate the time value of money or the analysis of risk, but what happens when you can’t sleep at night because some people owe you money that could make or break your business? Or, how can you determine which purchase is a reasonable risk that will result in future payback and which isn’t? Professors should teach young entrepreneurs not to take risks that will lead to “downside consequences”, with which the entrepreneurs won’t be able to live.
Teachers should focus more on helping future entrepreneurs assess when to stick to the game plan and when to go back to the drawing board and start on something new. This proves to be one of the toughest things to master. When creating a startup or a small business, this step is essential to the development and course of your company. There is no such thing as a magic formula or a piece of software that will help you predict what the future holds. How can you be prepared for all the possible scenarios while taking into consideration the factors that are at stake in every instance? Determination, inspiration and keeping your cool under pressure may be your best allies.
How can all this be taught in business schools? I do not have the key to the Universe, nor do I know the meaning of life, but I consider that the best way this advice can be implemented is by telling stories: tales of failure, problems and all the possible situations that could arise. Consider these little tales to be business cases. When executed correctly, they tell you a story of their own. It is my assumption that true stories told by true people can help an entrepreneur more than business cases.