How Business School Killed the Entrepreneur (and some worthy alternatives)

Written by Scott March 8, 2011

How business school killed the entrepreneur

“Don’t use graduate school, or any other course of study, as a form of life avoidance. Pursue the course only if there’s a good reason.”

~Chris Guillebeau

Important Note: This post is intentionally in depth. It’s meant to be a resource you read, bookmark and come back to as your life situation demands. I also think it could  save you $150,000.

I had first planned this to be a PDF guide, but I wanted to get it out to you all right away as I know a few people need it now. This topic warrants serious attention. If you know someone considering business school, please send it to them. And if you a solution of your own, please share it with us in the comments. 

Let the action begin…

The Systematic Killing of the Entrepreneur

Lately, I have become the go-to guy when it comes to transitions.

When someone’s peering over the edge thinking about taking the leap to a more meaningful existence, I get an email, a blog comment, a coaching inquiry or a request to meet. I love it!

That’s why I’ve created this site and it’s the most passionate topic I’ve come across. It’s impossible to truly make your mark if you aren’t spending your working hours doing something you give a damn about. But first we must learn to give a damn…

Dinner with Harvard.

A few weeks ago I had dinner with two very good friends who are finishing their final semester at Harvard Business School. I couldn’t wait to hear about the ideas being thrown around and the businesses being built by their classmates. By the end of our dinner I was less than impressed. Disappointed in fact.

I listened in awe as they explained that 90% of their classmates came to business school to go right back into banking and consulting (thankfully my two friends were among the other 10%). These folks had spent 3 years (including admission time) and $100-200k attending Harvard, possibly the most prestigious school on earth, just to get a raise.

Something tells me there are easier ways out there to make a few extra bucks.

Why question business school?

In full disclosure I have never been to business school. I used to consider it. It even used to be part of my plan. Then I started working on things that lit me on fire and realized at this point, it’s an unnecessary step. Although, I have spent a great deal of time considering the positive and negative implications of such a decision and discussed the plans with dozens of friends and clients on the subject. I’ve lived vicariously through their experiences. Hence, I feel it’s worth covering.

Business school no doubt has some big time merits. And for some it may be the right move (although fewer than one would imagine). I think a couple years at Harvard or Stanford would be mind-blowing (All I’d have to do is get in…;). But for a decision as time and financially intensive as this, a contrary view is important.

In many cases I believe there are more efficient ways to get a similar (and potentially much more valuable) experience. Better to realize that before you spend two years and one hundred and fifty grand, than after. I do not have all the answers but I have seen too much to stay silent.

Business school as an escape – beware the breaking point.

Most people who’ve come to me have hit a breaking point. They can’t stand it anymore. A change is a must. This is an empowering place to be. It gives you the best chance of taking action. If the pain is great enough we’ll do something about it.

But the danger is that when your job makes you feel like you want to jump off a cliff, then often anything in the world looks better. So you’re likely to jump onto the first thing that comes to mind. And many a time the easy next step (that requires very little actual thought or work) is to say “hmm, why don’t I go back to school?”.

The problem is we forget to stop and ask why.

Realize this is your chance to do something Meaningful.

Making a change is not about just finding the next thing. Odds are if you don’t understand yourself, what you want and what you’re naturally good at, then you’ll be in the same place 6 months from now–or even worse, you won’t totally hate it so you’ll sit in that meaningless zone of complacency for even longer.

I call that negative progress.

Recognize the opportunity you have. This is your chance to do something that matters. To take the world by the horns and figure out what you are here to do. You might not figure it out but you’ll at least have an idea of what you’d like to try. And that’s as good as you can ever get.

As long as you’re trying what you think you are meant to do, you will constantly be learning and refining and getting closer.

If you turn straight to business school (or any advanced education) you risk missing this holy grail of discovery altogether.

How to no waste 3 years and $150k

Why Business School Can Kill Your Dreams:

1. Schools aren’t teaching what you want to learn.

Many MBA programs have become factories for making consultants and bankers. This may be the surest route to making a ton of money (and probably hating your life), and schools like when wealthy alumni give money back to their university. This is why many students come, so that’s what they teach. It’s also a lot harder to teach how to be an entrepreneur compared to simple business theory. And it’s even harder to teach (and test) what your purpose is – how you can best impact the world. So they don’t.

Every year at Warren Buffett’s annual Berkshire shareholder’s meeting in Omaha, someone asks him, “I just finished business school and want to follow an investment path similar to yours. What should I do?” His response is usually something like “Well first unlearn half of what they taught you, and then…”

He’s serious. Almost every business school teaches that value investing (Mr. Buffett’s method) is impossible. How crazy is that? This is why my partner and I took his advice, didn’t get an MBA, and instead created our own curriculum with books, businessmen, mentors and good old trial and error.

This is just one example but it’s representative of a greater problem. Be careful with your expectations of what you’re actually going to learn and how applicable it will be. Can you find a cheaper and richer source of learning the same curriculum?

2. The people you meet might not be who you’re looking for.

From what I understand, business school was meant to be a place where people learned how to create and run businesses. If most people are there to get to the next rung on the corporate ladder and not to build things, you might not relate as much as you hoped.

Is school the best place you can go to meet the people you want to impact the world with? Are there other places to find this inspiration and camaraderie? Could you create a group of some sort in your city?

This is what my business buddies and I do with our monthly Tea Sessions at Samovar in San Francisco. It’s what World Domination Summit is doing for web entrepreneurs, what Summit Series is doing on a more global scale and what Live Your Legend is doing with its live meetups all over the world. The Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting does the same for value investors. These events are around and they’re awesome. But they aren’t handed to you like they are in business school. You must seek them out.

If you need help finding the right group, you’ve come to the right place. Surrounding yourself with the right people is at the core of what we believe at LYL. Start here: A Beginner’s Guide to Anti-Networking: 13 Tools & Articles for Building Real Relationships

3. There is almost no time spent on yourself.

Why is the focus on how to get certain jobs instead of what jobs you actually want to get or are best at? Who cares if you can land the job if you hate it or suck at it?! A while back I had dinner with Dick Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute – the ultimate career change bible.

His book has been a best seller for 40 years and has sold over 10m copies. No, that’s not a typo! Over dinner he explained to me that universities routinely reject his book as part of their curriculum because it’s “too elementary”. Does it get any more elementary than “spend time doing things you enjoy and are freakin awesome at?” Then why isn’t the focus there?

Could you create your own curriculum that would actually give you a real shot at finding your Great Work? This is where I spend most of my time with people and its the focus of our Revolution at Live Your Legend. Some places to start are Strength’s Finder 2.0 and our Live Off Your Passion Guided-Discovery career course.

4. Your standards and expectations will be too high.

The more time and money you sink into something, the more committed you are going to be to putting it to serious use (see story at end of this post). It’s very possible you’ll feel entitled to a big time job with a big salary. You spent two years earning it. Plus everyone else around you is doing it. But is that how you actually want to spend your life?

5. The cost of going out on your own will be huge–too huge.

Not only are your expectations too rich when you’re done, but you literally won’t be able to afford it. Most people leave business school with $100k+ in debt. Do you have any idea how much riskier and more difficult starting your own business is with that kind of load on your back? You could either get a job earning perhaps $120k+ a year or you could start your own businesses with an entry salary of $0. Makes entrepreneurship a pretty hard choice.

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

~Tom Bodett

Perhaps there’s a cheaper, more efficient way.

Before doing something drastic, do some looking to whether you could have gotten that education for a bit cheaper (or possibly free) by some alternate creative means. A lot of times you can trade cost/money for hard work–you just need to be motivated enough.

There are incredible programs sprouting up all over the place. Not only are they cheaper and faster but you’re likely to get a ton more focused and practical education as a result.

A few include:

Don’t expect business school, or any typical path, to figure something out for you.

No matter how much you pay, nothing is going to figure out the important stuff for you. It will always be on you. I suggest you take some ownership.

The Solution: Go to School on Yourself First

You could start with the exercises in What Color is Your Parachute, Strength’s Finder 2.0 or Live Off Your Passion. Or you could just wander the world for a few months with a journal and an open mind–recording the things that strike a passionate chord.

Either way, it starts with you. Do this before you do something extreme, that will take years of your life and cost a fortune. If afterwords, you still decide school is the path, then great. Go forward intentionally.

If you go, go in prepared.

So you already got accepted, are currently attending or for some crazy reason, still plan to go? Awesome. It’s not too late to get everything you can from it. Know who you are and what you really want from the experience.

Did you honestly agree to pay $100k+ for the chance to get a raise and better title? Seriously think about that. I doubt it (and if you did, then this post isn’t for you). I bet you did it to get closer to putting your dent in the world. This could be the perfect opportunity. Use it wisely. Do the above and welcome the experience with open arms.

Small decisions can have huge, lasting impacts – a personal story.

I once had a very smart friend who didn’t know what to do with her life after university, so she decided to take the LSAT just to see what it was like. She happened to score in the 99th percentile. She thought “well if I did this well, I have to at least apply to law schools.” So she applied.

She got into Georgetown.

Then she thought “Georgetown is an awesome school. Since I got in, I can’t waste this opportunity that so many would die to have. I should at least go for the experience.” So she went. Then she spent three years getting a law degree. Once she graduated she had offers from a few prestigious firms. She thought, “I just spent 3 years getting a bad-ass education and I can’t just let it go to waste.”

So she took the job as a lawyer. She spent a year or two practicing law. Every once in a while she contemplated leaving but didn’t because she couldn’t give up the $200+/hour she was making at her firm.

Then one day she called me and said she was considering a massive shift. Music to my ears! We spent a few hours talking through ideas and I sent her a copy of the 4-Hour Work Week.

She quit her job 2 months later. Now she’s spending her time doing things she cares about.

Yes, the story has a happy ending, but remember, she never had the interest or intended on practicing law. It was in her confusion of what to do, that she decided to do something easy, something small (take the LSAT) thinking “what harm could this do?” As a result she spent five years working on something that was never who she was in the first place.

There’s no question that the experience was still a success–she made unreal relationships and learned a skill set that will serve her no matter where she goes. But you have to at least wonder what could have happened if those five years were spent on something that embodied who she truly was. Now she gets to find out.

Don’t underestimate the ripple effect a small decision can have.

Understand yourself and be intentional about your path. It takes a lot more work but the reward is priceless. Just remember it takes even more work (and pain) to make a decision for the wrong reasons and then try to reverse years of poorly invested time and money. Not impossible, but much harder to stomach.

There is no quick answer to the “what am I meant to do” question. No one will do it for you. The sooner you can start testing and learning, the better.

Don’t convince yourself you need expensive schools and degrees to find your way.

You don’t. Especially in the beginning. No matter your age or stage, the education starts inside you. Only once you’ve done that work will you know whether something formal is necessary. For starting businesses it usually isn’t.

Often all you need can be found through the things right in front of you. For some reason we tend to look for a more glamorous and complicated answer. But those are just excuses in disguise. Sorry to disappoint.

Doing things to build your resume and get experience is kind of like saving up sex for old age (Buffett’s favorite way of putting it). Life’s too short to build a resume. Do what lights you on fire and your resume will turn to gold.

The world will thank you and you’ll never look back. By then the resume won’t matter anyway.

It’s time to start building.

-Scott

“Some people get an education without going to college; the rest get it after they get out.”

~ Mark Twain

But what about the awesome connections that business school provides?? In my eyes the relationships are the biggest benefit of advanced education. That’s why I created this massive resource: A Beginner’s Guide to Anti-Networking: 13 Tools & Articles for Building Real Relationships

Check out Our other Self-Guided Education Tools:

For the comments: Do you know of other alternate MBA programs? Share in the comments and I hope to add them to this post

At this moment, 1,000’s of people we all know are facing the business school decision. Take 4 seconds and tweet or Facebook share this with someone you know could use it. Just use the links below…

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Images courtesy of Cerenious and EdeFoto

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