Disclaimer: Just a senior reflecting on my undergraduate education. What I’m about to write about is merely based on my experiences as a student at New York University and may not reflect any universal truths. Note that I have a complicated relationship with grammar. Also, different opinions and feedback welcomed.
As I am about to embark on the next chapter of my life, it seems necessary to reflect on my past four years and share my newfound perspective. As the tech scene and entrepreneurship seem to have exploded over the past few years, I think most students have begun to realize that wealth or whatever people consider success is not solely restricted to the old or experienced. Hence, the number of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship offerings in school has skyrocketed in response to this trend. However, based on my interaction with some of my peers, I have come to realize one thing: business school will ruin you. Now this may not apply to everyone (the lucky ones), but I think some of the points I’m going to talk about do apply to the majority. Some the fundamental flaws of attending a business school as an undergrad is that:
1. You think you’re too good for social media
Sorry to burst your $50,000/year bubble, but going to a prestigious school does not mean you’re too good for social media. Apparently there is some stigma among business students that social media is for the incapable. However, I’m pretty sure that all the classes you’ve taken don’t touch upon social media, or how to use it effectively. It’s time to get off your high horse and see that getting an “A” in your marketing class does not mean it is your “expertise.” It also does not mean you know all the answers. As a matter of fact, social media strategy and content generation is not as easy as you think — it requires ingenuity, creativity, and empathy. Bet that wasn’t on the course description. Business school has a way of inflating your ego to a point where an opportunity to learn outside the classroom rather than in it becomes an insult rather than an opportunity for self-improvement.
2. You’re rarely going to use those formulas/models/numbers.
I think if I had to summarize business school in a sentence, it would be “increase revenue, cut overhead.” That may be an overgeneralization, but I think that is what’s being hinted at throughout the four years. Plain and simple, this is capitalism at its core and this ideology fundamentally eliminates many of the other aspects of running a business. As a result, it creates a focus on short-term wins as opposed to long-term victories. Rather, I think it might even be helpful to see that your company(the people) is your business, and everything else is simply a byproduct. Your output is only good as your process, and generally your process relies on the people in your company. It does not hurt to have happy employees with a sense of autonomy because a happy employee means they’re taking ownership of their work. That translates to a better functioning unit, which translates to more wins.
Another issue is that the focus on learning about such minute details in business only prepares you for something like being an accountant, not a business leader. I randomly grabbed a 300-page textbook and skimmed it just to see how relevant it would be to starting a business. Do you really need to know what “days payables outstanding” or “cash conversion cycle” mean? I’m sure it’s helpful to some extent, but probably not a necessity. Exposure to all these terms and models simply erodes your ability to think logically and concisely. Starting a business by thinking about it in terms of such specific details confines your ideas in a box, and the more you think in a box as you start a business, the more limited you will be in the long-run.
3. Jay-Z’s “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” does not apply to you.
Although there has been a shift towards entrepreneurship, business schools for the most part still want you to go into the corporate world, specifically investment banking, because it means more endowment contribution from graduates. Being an entrepreneur means not working for anyone but yourself, not because it’s the cool thing to do but because it goes against the very fiber of your being. I’ll be damned if I bust my ass so that someone takes 90% of what I earn while s/he is sitting on the toilet. Not to bag on the large corporations, because there are some gems in the mix, but the entire infrastructure of a corporation sucks: it allows them to pay their employees $100k a year when their CEO makes $20 million a year, and the company makes a net profit of $100 million. Trickle-down economy. The sad part is that the employees do all the heavy lifting, and still have to suck up to the “boss man.” If you want to be an entrepreneur, recognize that the $20 million/year CEO you want to work for is just another human being, and that he or she has nothing over you.
Business School del Sole 24Ore – Job Meeting Padova 2013 (Photo credit: Job Meeting)
4. You’re one of those people from District 1.
From my understanding, business school is highly competitive with their crazy curves and grade cutoffs. What business school does well is foster an environment for the Hunger Games, where each student has to be cut-throat and hustle to beat the person next to them. When you enter the startup world, or at least in NYC, you start to see that entrepreneurs actually prefer collaboration. A lot of entrepreneurs actually like to provide feedback and advice. They recognize that success is never a one-man job, it is always a team effort. Business students tend to see people as either an asset or an obstacle, and therefore position themselves to be either the winner or the loser. The real world doesn’t really work like that: there can be multiple winners and no losers. Forget all the rules because there are none.
Whether we’re an Einstein or not, not a single one of us knows all the answers (except maybe Google). We all live different lives and have different perspectives, and if anything, there is at least one thing someone knows that you and I do not. Two brains will always be better than one, because (1) having an extra person offers a different perspective and ideas and (2) that brain comes with helping hands, a mouth, and some other stuff. I’m sure we all had that one person in the group who did little to contribute to the group or pretty much anything they say was stupid. It’s not that they weren’t useful, it’s that s/he was not being utilized effectively. Collaboration teaches you to recognize individual strengths and weaknesses, and how melding talent within the group can create a high functioning unit.
5. You are taught in a box, and so you think in a box.
I think this applies more generally to all schools, but there seems to be a consensus that every question on an exam has a specific one-answer solution. “Shit, what’s the answer to question #5? I think it’s A, but B makes sense too. Which one is the right one?!” I’m 99.9% sure that that will never happen when you enter the workforce because there’s no such thing as a right answer. There are good choices and there are bad choices, but with so many factors to consider, a “right answer” is absurd. Knowing that there is an answer to a solution that can be found in a book tells you that it is okay to reuse and recycle. Although there’s nothing wrong with recycling, a continual habit of that trains our brain to look inside the box. And the more we do it, the harder it is to see outside the box. There are answers to problems that we have yet to think of, but they are out there somewhere, in whatever metaphysical space ideas live in.
Entrepreneurs see the world differently — they ask questions, they associate seemingly different ideas, they bridge gaps and connect ideas. This is why I think entrepreneurship cannot be taught in a classroom. To be an entrepreneur is to be willing to experiment, to learn as you go, to take ownership of your lack of knowledge, and to proactively fill that gap in knowledge. But more importantly, entrepreneurs have an insatiable thirst for a challenge and an adventure. With education and its focus on point-based metrics and multiple choice answers, the very idea of teaching(and grading) entrepreneurship is contradictory.