UN-learning for Entrepreneurs

An article in Inc.com claims that to become successful entrepreneurs, students need to UNlearn several lessons that schools have made an extraordinary effort to teach them.  I’ll paraphrase here:

  1. Excellence is measured in how well you follow instructions.
  2. Expect micro-management (including milestones, deadlines and constant feedback).
  3. Time off (or “break”) is the highlight of your experience..
  4. Criticism means you’re failing.
  5. Stick to the rules or be rejected.

One of the biggest and most consistent complaints I get in my CEE300Engineering Business Practices is about the lack of structure.  Here’s a sampling of student comments taken directly from my teaching evaluations, in response to the question prompt “What did you like least about this course?”

I felt as though the class was unorganized and kind of haphazard at times.

Lack of structure.

No structure.

That we spend most of the time period without getting any instructions or assignments.

Controversy in class.

Sometimes unclear of what was to be done and when.

Very unorganized and unstructured.

The unstructured nature of the course provided little information on assignment due dates.

Not having a set schedule.

I did not like that the course was unorganized. There were days when I would go into class and have no idea what was going on.

Probably not having an actually schedule and how the syllabus changed every single week!

The fact that there was no consistent schedule that I could plan my weeks around, but that’s life, right?

When I look at the UNlessons in the article and relate them to my course, it looks like this:

  1. Following instructions.  Assignment guides are minimalistic and grading rubrics include a category (typically 10% of the overall grade) that says, “Goes beyond the assignment instructions.  In other words, following the instructions perfectly can only get you to a 90/100 — just enough for an A-.  Students that want an A must do more.
  2. Micromanagement.  There are few deadlines — just some loose guideposts.  In fact, nobody necessarily dies if the students miss a target date.  In most cases, it’s up the students to set their own schedules.
  3. Time off.  We run on a 24/7 cycle.  Class is in session, on-line, all the time.  That includes weekends and what we typically call “breaks”.
  4. Criticism.  It’s when you’re close to being really good that you get the most critique.  My attention is disproportionately allocated to on helping the ‘B+’ students become ‘A’ students.  If students aren’t getting critique, it’s either because they’re already awesome and they’re hearing nothing but praise, or they are so bad it’s not worth my time.
  5. Rules.  Part of the process is allowing the students to make up some of their own rules as they go.  From the comments above, I know that’s frustrating.  Sometimes the students get mad at each other.  Because one of the learning objectives is leadership, it’s important that students have a space in which they can actually emerge as leaders.

Among the negative comments on my teaching evaluations are several from students that suggest they “did not learn anything,” here’s one of my favorites:

Overall a very disorganized, useless class (the way it was taught), and just a waste of time.

The first thing to take from that is pretty positive.  If this student didn’t learn anything in my class, then they are at least saved the trouble of having to UNlearn the class if they ever become an entrepreneur.  The second thing is that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone.

Although Universities all claim that they are preparing “tomorrow’s leaders,” we know that can’t possibly be true of all their students.  Moreover, not all leaders are entrepreneurs.  Nonetheless, I think the Inc.com article pretty much has it right.  For those students that do have a predilection for entrepreneurship, the usual expectations of the University do little but place obstacles in their path.  I hope Engineering Business Practices is an exception.

Read the full article here: Entrepreneurs: 5 Things to Un-Learn From School | Inc.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s