I have long believed that business and management training is very broken in the U.S. and the claim of business schools to create entrepreneurs is a specious absurdity.
The reason for this is that good entrepreneurs are basically courageous, slightly mad weirdos. And in their absurd passion they are much more like artists than businessmen. So how do you teach this divine madness, which I consider the touchstone of entrepreneurship?
Well, I’m not sure you can, but there is an interesting experiment going on at Duke University. The Duke initiative encourages students to marry the arts to business innovation and entrepreneurship by offering a new certificate program in innovation and entrepreneurship. It hopes to provide a formal path of study for students whose artistic passions may lead them to parallel entrepreneurial pursuits.
Perhaps this program harks directly to Steve Jobs cultural statement about his own company: “It’s in Apple‘s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”
I certainly feel Duke’s new course that seeks to “marry” liberal arts and entrepreneurship is on the conceptually right track. It seeks to create a better imaginative and cultural alternate path for business education in a radically evolving international enterprise climate. Duke’s course and other new college experiments may provide a formal structure of study for students whose artistic and practical interests might lead them to entrepreneurial pursuits.
Jane Hawkins, who is chairwoman of Duke’s music department, wants students to understand that their artistic talents can turn them in a myriad of creative career directions. She says, “They don’t have to feel that their only option to continue a career in the arts is to become a famous pianist or photographer.” (Duke Today, March 13, 2014)
Colleges and business schools have become wildly expensive. Worried parents are increasingly pushing their progeny to be “practical,” to take mostly STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects. That practicality is increasingly militating against preparation in English, philosophy, history, music, or any of the performing arts for parents worried about getting their educational money’s worth.
It is short-sighted for students in our advanced academic institutions to be stampeded into what amounts to high-level technical and vocational training. Training for what is today’s hot trade will probably be quaintly old-fashioned within five years, if not sooner. And this is especially true in business training.
This lemming-like flight from a liberal arts education is utterly wrong-headed. The broadly educated man and woman will be much better equipped than his/her specialist colleague for the executive skills of operating profitably in a multi-fractal, rapidly changing, multi-cultural world. With wisdom and imaginative verve.
Business schools’ claims to teach entrepreneurship are a sham. Business schools want to be relevant and cool. Like entrepreneurs. They are not. They also want to tap the extra income created by the popular image of entrepreneurs in the eyes of starry-eyed business ingenues, drawn to the neo-glamour of the heroic creative business individualist. It is a cynical pecuniary concern that motivates the explosion of business school “entrepreneurial offerings,” when all they really are doing is repackaging command and control skills not really apt to a changing economy and evolving workforce. Business schools are behind the times, limited by a conservative arrogance, both hidebound and hegemonous. They remain mostly about creating corporate technicians, not innovative businesspersons, not creative thinkers, not better communicators, not paradigm disruptors.
When asked by his HR consultant what sort of employees he was looking for at Amazon, Jeff Bezos reportedly said, “Send me your wackos.” Creating wackos ain’t what business departments and schools are about. But the liberal arts may mold the foundation for real out-of-the-box entrepreneurial thinking and it is where a true entrepreneurial preparation should begin.
The reason for being in business for the best entrepreneurs is to create something good, happy, useful, true—and therefore profitable. That is the very essence of an efficacious and moral capitalism.
German philosopher Josef Pieper says, “Only those are called liberal or free which are concerned with knowledge; those which are concerned with utilitarian ends…are called servile.”
Yeah, Josef. Thanks.