Brant Scheifler

Founder & Chief Encourager, Whiteboard Entrepreneur.com

This conversation is closed.

Does formal education play a significant role in the success of entrepreneurs and the outcomes of their business activities?

The foreground of such debate is perhaps seen in this debate: Are leaders born or made? With multiple TED (and Tedx) talks discussing entrepreneurship, I was curious what the community thought about the role that education plays in the success of the entrepreneur. (*please don't just say, it depends.)

Closing Statement from Brant Scheifler

Thanks all for your thoughts and comments. It's clear that most commentators don't view education as being vital to the success of the entrepreneur. In fact, many feel it can be a hindrance. With that said, many pointed out that education is what you make of it and that it can be utilized as a tool, even if that tool is context/perspective. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

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    Mar 11 2012: i think the personality and character of enterpreneurs has significant roles in their sucess than their formal education. anyways, education can only give us informations and cant help the way you deal with problems. and i hardly think formal education has a role in moulding personality and charcter of a person.
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      Mar 11 2012: Good point in making a distinction between personality/character and information accumulation. To be contrary, some pursuits definitely benefit from specialized and technical knowledge. But, you brought up an interesting point about formal education. You said you don't think it has a role in molding personality and character. I'm not saying that I agree or disagree with that, but I've observed a lot of colleges taking on that idea in their mission statements. That is, that they will do just that if you attend. Do you think the age one attends college has an affect on this?
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        Mar 11 2012: "the age one attends college" might had an effect on that, if there was a specific age which guarantees "mental maturity" for a person. i mean, the age is not important but what matters is the mental maturity. there are 16 year olds who can run a bussiness and 60 year olds who cant tie their own shoes.
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    Mar 11 2012: Yes, in my empirical understanding of this it makes a huge difference the entrepreneurs I see dropped out of college or never went.

    I think this quote from MIB covers it:

    Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training. Now please step this way, as we provide you with our final test: an eye exam...
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      Mar 11 2012: I observe the same thing. Something that seems contradictory to me is this. Why do you think there are more and more students enrolling into entrepreneurial programs at universities? E.G, Champlain College has a BYOB (Bring your own business) program and many Gen Y'ers bring a business with them to enrollment. Why are they going to college if they know how to start businesses?
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        Mar 11 2012: 80% of business is finding a niche that you can sell something to. The remainder is about organization which is quite easy when you have something that sells.

        Maybe I didn't make myself clear. You don't need an education for this you just have to find out what sells and sell it. You either find this or you don't.

        If you want to be a professional yup you have to go to school but not an entrepreneur in fact school is a liability to this obvious requirement as it hampers your ability to look.
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          Mar 11 2012: I would also suggest that when you are a young person you may have a fantastic idea but don't have the connections yet to help materialize such ideas. As an entrepreneur myself, I couldn't conceive of the personal (not fiscal) connections I have now when I was in my early 20's.

          Perhaps college is a way to facilitate these early connections? Also, many universities are holding startup competitions etc that can potentially end in a substantial amount of $VC.

          To Mr. Scheifler's question are leaders "born" or "made", they are most certainly "made". To suggest otherwise is a slippery and scary slope. How they are made is a varied path that doesn't always include college but nobody is simply born great or with an innate faculty for success. These things are cultivated.
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          Mar 12 2012: Steven: Quote:To Mr. Scheifler's question are leaders "born" or "made", they are most certainly "made". To suggest otherwise is a slippery and scary slope. How they are made is a varied path that doesn't always include college but nobody is simply born great or with an innate faculty for success. These things are cultivated.
          True that nurturing can ultimately make a difference. If you look at history's greatest inventors, whether in the arts, sciences or humanities I think you will find that some people do seem to be born leaders. People who succeed in SPITE of oppositions, who were Not nurtured.
          Einstein, Michelangelo, DaVinci, President A. Lincoln, M.L King, Newton, Galileo etc, etc. I can go on and on. The list is actually quite long. So many had to do their work in secret, keep their true opinions behind closed doors, yet their gifts were inherent in their inatures. Or simply put they were born that way!
          And yes for some it may seem like a "scary and slippery slope". Without those who persist and succeed in spite of society we would still be feeding the flames of a cooking fire. (I stole the last part from a statement made regarding autistic people of which there is a possibility that many on that long list belonged to)
  • Mar 8 2012: If I may chime in here Brant, I would like to make an analogy to help shed light on this question. Entrepreneurs are very similar to artists in more ways than they first appear. Both can be taught the skills of how to be better at what the do, but nobody can teach the drive, the passion for their work, or the inspiration that they should use to achieve it. Those things can only come from inside that individual person and of course some people are better at certain things than others because of those nuances.
    You can teach anyone how to paint but it is extremely hard to get someone who can paint like a master to work as professional artist if they don't want to become a professional artist. Millions of Americans out there already have the know-how of managing the finances of their own business, they now how to manage people in a respectful and efficient way, they know the things that they are capable of in-house and what would need to be out-sourced to others. They have all of the, "education," needed to run a business and probably make it thrive, but they don't have any interest in becoming entrepreneurs. One more striking similarity between artists and entrepreneurs is that many of them are self-taught and often times they already possess the skills needed to work their magic before they even finish high-school.
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      Mar 8 2012: Wow, what a great analogy! I think you're spot on. I'm in the midwest, and there are tons of managers here and that seems to be the prized quality that is esteemed over innovation or risk taking. (At least from my personal vantage point.) Obviously, we have entrepreneurs but the culture more encourages metrics over idea creation.
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    Mar 19 2012: Without formal education, socially-appropriate reference frameworks may not exist within the mind of a born leader to enable and optimize the natural talent. For example, a gang leader who learned gang leadership on the streets, would not be able to be an effective leader in a corporation. Without formal education, people are like an empty book left outside in the street, exposed to the moodswings of the weather and the general environment - to be written in according to the seasons, and the whims of a passing vehicle or the pattern under the shoe of self-absorbed pedestrians. The human mind is a book. It reproduces from what has been written in it. To become relevant, it needs formal education.
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      Mar 20 2012: Robert, this conversation as a whole has suggested that formal education doesn't play a large role in the development of the entrepreneur. While I honestly agree for the most part, I must say I was concerned we had fallen in to a sort of group-think in this thread. That said, you make a valid point that formal education can provide an important framework for the entrepreneur. Personally, while I found that I benefited very little in terms of most of the content of my formal education, I did gain some context. At the very least, even being aware of what "I don't know" has been helpful. (I then seek out/hire experts on those areas.) To your point, perhaps I would not be aware of those blind spots had it not been for college. If that justifies the time/expense of it, I'm not sure. But for some, that may be the only option to gain that perspective or framework and thus it can be used for good. Thanks for commenting.
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        Mar 20 2012: Brant. You made a valid point. I noticed how the thread rapidly split into three discussions namely; education, leadership, and entrepreneurship. In general, little mystery remains in the relationship between education and leadership. However, thank you for placing entrepreneurship back into its proper, mysterious perspective.

        I would like to assert that Entrepreneurship could be regarded as a complex competency. First, I think that a tacit (unseen) universe exists for complex competencies, i.e., entrepreneurship. Second, an appropriate de-abstraction methodology could visualize this tacit world, and construct competency in a coherent system. By implication, entrepreneurial knowledge could thus be retro-encoded and demystified for formal learning and scientific application. However, we need to become educated in the tools required to perform this function of our human IQ and prior education. Education should provide knowhow and skills.

        I think, truly passionate individuals should choose to never allow structured learning to cease, even if such learning matures to an informal state – as a competency. At this level of self- actualization, it probably should be a constant choice yes. Learning evolves in iterative circles within knowledge lifecycles. It is a natural phenomenon, so we might as well embrace it in a structured (formal) manner. I think that entrepreneurs would be the first persons to accept such a paradigm in order to learn how to shift it for personal benefit.
  • Mar 18 2012: I recognize the need for reform, but am not drawn into it. You asked for answers, I gave you brief versions of the solutions that I have been able to implement in classrooms that I have run or supervised. I also chose to educate myself in a unique manner. I used the colleges to learn what I needed to teach well and be the best parent that I could be, as opposed to following their "guidelines to graduation" as outlined in the "majors" section of the "education" catalog. I finally took my last g.e. units to graduate the last semester of school. Funny how the universities are designed with a lot of corporate structure and systems (advertising, recruitment, even making money!). Anyway, there may be more entrepeneurs if the ed system focused on creativity and ingenuity. Or not. It may be that some of us are just driven to work millions of hours! There are recent studies on orphaned twins raised by different families which show some very interesting things tying genes to behaviors - but not defining the person. These studies show that it is CRITICAL to nurture a child's nature. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to keep the balance between nurturing, guiding and using discipline. In the end, the parent is the first teacher and genetics does play a role in our decision making, but entrepeneurs have hybrid vigor, so we'll always be popping out of whatever system we're raised in to find ways to work without it, yet still within it.
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      Mar 19 2012: I understand. Yes, education reform is a different battle altogether reserved for those who wish to enlist. :) Like you, I understand the need for it, but have not moved onto that front either. Thanks for sharing your experiential perspective!
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    Mar 18 2012: Hello Brant !! Interesting question, I recently attended to an TEDx event at Phx. And on my way back home Mexico, I was thinking about all the wave -entrepreneurship- . I have been working with kids and teens at schools and private practice and my opinion is that there is a big adventage for a kid when he goes to the school to become a leader, besides the knowledge,discipline, structure an the tranning f cognitive skills, like planning, analysisi etc. there is an other main factor,(thta can even change the path of a low performance stundet into a leader), the factor is the role model of teachers, when they really work and project their passion, inject hope... hellp to find differets ways to jump the obstacles, and promotes apply all this knowlaedge otside the school´s walls. I think that leaders born and are sometime became... becasue they only need to be awaken by an inspiring, innovative soul who speaks the different languages of the multiple intelligences = ) . Gracias
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      Mar 19 2012: Veronica, I agree. I have worked with youth in the past and my goal was to help them see themselves as leaders as well. Perhaps that's an interesting way to approach this conversation on entrepreneurship/education, that is, calling it leadership preparation. At the heart, entrepreneurs are really leaders. Conversely, the educational system produces followers in many respects. If we wish to encourage the entrepreneurial qualities in our youth (and adults if they remain open), we probably need to encourage leadership. The TED community encourages thought leadership, which is a powerful start. Beyond that, action leadership is more powerful still. I think if we can see education begin to produce more leaders, those with either for profit or non profit entrepreneurial aspirations, youth will receive empowerment to nurture and pursue their goals. gracias a ti!
  • Mar 17 2012: I am a formally educated entrepeneur and I believe that my formal education helped me to do market studies, organize my work and structure my time. I also believe, however, that if I had taken college too seriously then it would have hindered my ability for divergent thinking. I have never cared about grades; therefore, only the learning affected me. I took the lessons and left the judgments. I have also spent 20 yrs in the educational system, as a teacher and supervisor, and have found that the system stunts our minds. Teachers are poorly trained; therefore, students are poorly taught. Believing in the system leads to apathy and a lack of problem solving skills in many kids that would, otherwise, become successful entrepeneurs. I have discovered that the most disruptive students often have the drive and unique ways of thinking that entrepeneurs need in order to succeed. Formal education, while slightly different than K-12 ed., remains a creativity killer. It helps with organizational skills but hurts the ability to create new ideas from old, which is one of the foundation stones for being a successful entrepeneur. Ultimately, entrepeneurs don't need higher education - higher education needs us!
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      Mar 17 2012: Adolfo, you have a unique perspective on this. I have to ask, what do you then think the educational system could do to better equip entrepreneurs within the system? I'd love to know! (So would many others.)
  • Mar 12 2012: I think this is a question with a very flexible answer. Everyone is different, some people thrive in educational situations and can readily manipulate a learning environment to facilitate real-world solutions, and others do much better just getting out and having a go.

    I must say, though, highschool and a lot of undergraduate degrees are very constricting unless you're the type of person who CAN manipulate a learning environment to ensure you get what you need out of it. Forget grades, forget awards, and focus on soaking up information and experimenting with ideas as much as possible. The most common mistake people make with formal education is to assume that by doing a degree you'll be able to replicate academic success on an entrepreneurial scale, or that it will give you everything you need to succeed. Which is entirely not true. Formal education can give you the tools, the network and the information resources to develop a range of informed solutions backed up by research - but it's the foundations, not the house. To build a business you still need to get out into the market, make mistakes and learn from them.

    I also think if you're going to use formal education to your advantage you can't stop with highschool or even an undergraduate degree. It's not until you hit the research stage that you have the freedom to use the resources available to academics to push boundaries and develop something new.

    I think people have to be wary about relying entirely on formal education as a vehicle to success, but at the same time I think for some people it can be an extremely useful tool. It depends on the person, their ability to use formal education rather than rely on it, and an individual's natural ability to think independently.

    Basically, I think leaders ARE born. But I think some leaders can make formal education work for them incredibly well and others will thrive much better without it.
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    Mar 11 2012: Great question.

    I would argue that formal education is a barrier to an entrepreneur's success. To an entrepreneur formal education is likely just a backup plan. It is not a particularly wise backup plan as formal education takes so much time and money. Every moment spent working towards this backup plan gets in the way of the primary goal of running a business.

    Many will argue that having degrees puts you in a better position to network and to be seen as professional. As for the second case, not having a degree does not carry as much stigma as it used to among entrepreneurs, particularly in Silicon Valley. Networking is one thing I would say formal education can assist an entrepreneur in. This has been shown by countless tech companies that emerged from college dorms. So college can be useful when it comes to starting a business.

    The fact is formal education is not geared towards entrepreneurs, people who need a specific set of skills. Moreover, with the amount of free information online, college is due for a reappraisal. It may not even be worth tens of thousands of dollars a year.

    The point I'd like to make is that in business there is an urgency to act as quickly as possible. Formal education can become a distraction and could leave a potential entrepreneur in debt and out of time. Focusing on one goal is more likely to lead to success.
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      Mar 11 2012: I agree that whatever 'gift' is there to begin with, it must be cultivated into greatness. I suppose this can happen within the rigors and confines of academia or in the trenches of real world trial and error. (Perhaps ideally, both.)

      Also, I have to agree from personal experience that most college programs are not geared toward producing or equipping entrepreneurs, but geared toward producing corporate workers for large corporations. Disclosure: This was my personal experience and the same for other 'treps I know, perhaps not everyone's.
  • Mar 20 2012: Education can teach us many things: efficiency, business models, operations, etc. However it takes a certain type of individual to take inspiration from the outside world and change it into a executable business.
  • Mar 20 2012: Interesting question. Just joined this. A parent wishes/ hopes/ aims that his / her child achieves the best that his / her natural and acquired talents would enable them to in this world. However, is there REALLY any formal education system today which actually empowers children to discover what they love to do and then actually encourage them to make a successful and ethical venture out of it? Hardly, but if there is one would like to learn about it. Most formal systems are too focused on results, marks, degrees etc and cannot teach children values, confidence, faith, etc which would be the tools of any entrepreneur. So who makes / inspires a child to become a successful entrepreneurs - role models, mentors, guides. Maybe the times of apprenticeship are returning - one on one lessons with a true guide / mentor / teacher?? Aside from education, the biggest influence on a child's ability will be the parents. Hence, I feel that a successful entrepreneur with successful business activities would reflect back and actually confirm that someone somewhere along his / her life did inspire them to think differently, believe in them selves, and encouraged them to understand how to take a risk, and most likely that did not happen in a majority of our class rooms. It probably happened in the real world. This does not discount the role teachers play today in inspiring children towards entrepreneurship and success within classroom settings. In fact maybe now more than ever our teachers play a bigger role in creating entrepreneurs. Hence while historically most success stories are about those who did not receive formal education that may not be the case in the future. One day this whole picture may need to be relooked at if we get our learning right from childhood.
  • Mar 20 2012: No,
    Steve Jobs-College dropout
    Mukesh ambani
    Bill gates-did not complete university
    Dhirubhai Ambani-Newspaper seller
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    Mar 20 2012: I agree, I do not know how the systems and programs developed in the United States or other developed countries, but in my country, Indonesia and other developing countries, programs have started printing entrepreneur is set within the world of education, in addition to the government's decision to declare entrepreneur program in the campus, support for third-party support was in support of this program is very large, this third party between them is the entrepreneur who has been successful
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    Mar 19 2012: I think the world of education and understanding of the function will be behind how meaning is leader created, or the leader was born in

    formal education that is applied in every country has the function and purpose of each, there is intended to create an entrepreneur, a leader, be a solution for the gover,emt system in the future, all have a very good goal, but it all again again in an environment where human beings are born, grow up educated and ready to become something, it all can not be separated from the role of education which he lived, I agree with what Mr. Robert Benjamin as a gang leader will not be effective when he became a leader in a company

    so did his thing with the entrepreneur, when he became champion in the traditional market will not necessarily be the champion he is also in the stock market, all returned to the formal education he received and the environment in which he grew
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      Mar 20 2012: I see your point in that a leader/entrepreneur finds success within his given realm/niche, which may not crossover well. However, you also said that education has the intended purpose of creating an entrepreneur. From my perspective/experience this is not the case. There are some programs designed and catered to this mission but by large most are not, in my opinion. Do you find this to be true in a different country than the USA? If so, what country is that?
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    Mar 19 2012: In this regard formal education is a tool.
  • Mar 19 2012: I say that leaders are born not made. I say this because I myself am only a freshman in high school but I have noticed that the kids who were leading in first grade are still leading today. And I have no business experience but I would say that having a successful business depends on how bad you yourself wants it and if you can inspire the people around you like Simon Sinek's great TED talk, "How great leaders inspire action".
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      Mar 20 2012: Michael, good for you. Welcome to this thread and I commend you for your zeal and determination. I would assume that by your comment you would count yourself among those leaders? If so, do you feel your education is benefiting you in your efforts or hindering? Perhaps you have the most real time perspective of any of us who have commented thus far. Let us know!
      • Mar 20 2012: Well yes I would consider myself one of those leaders and I would also say that education hasn't hurt if that's what you are asking. I wouldn't consider myself one of the smartest kids in my class, I'm only a year ahead in science and other than that I am taking advantage if every higher level class I can. With that being said I feel that education especially now is just a tool in order to construct the final product that is the students future. My school district is the highest achieving public school district in central Ohio, maybe the whole state I'm not sure, but this education is given to every kid who walks into the door of a classroom. This is where I'm going to connect back to what I said earlier in that it is up to the student to use that education. In the city I live in the question is not are you going to college but rather what college are you planning on going to. It is up to the child to take that extra AP or IB class versus just taking the regular class. Now when I bring this back to leadership I feel that the best leaders in the school have taken full advantage of the opportunity at hand and have turned it into something great. I hope that this helps in the conversation, if you would ever like me to comment on anything regarding education feel free to ask.
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    Mar 18 2012: I attended art school. I learnt how to view and present an art work. Writing was also important to present the ideas of an art work or exhibition (catalogues, artist statements, essays).

    When I left art school, I had these skills that lead me nowhere. I still painted and exhibited and my work is a growing sensation in the Pacific. I picked up on Sound, Film and Music Production through years of sitting at home, joining forums and watching You Tube and other internet tutorials.

    I'm also a male model at Vanity Walk and I got some extra work for some television programmes and adds. I gained first hand insight of how they filmed.

    With access to so much information, tutors and industrys here on the internet, I didn't need to waste more time and pay for further education. I just found what I wanted to do and studied it. Any equipment I needed, I built it or saved up and bought it.

    I began to realise the rewards of being at art school, art school examined the importance of presentation. I apply the art school mode to any product, whether its a book, music video clip or art piece. I create and build a presentation (who or how will it be viewed, how is the writing complimenting the product), link up with charitys and organisations and pitch on how it fits the demand.

    I hope this was relevant to the question. I am new to the site and this is my first post. Awesome to be on board.
  • Mar 17 2012: One more thing - schools need more project based activities, both long and short term, so that children have something to show for their work and understand how rise/run builds stairs and a strong grasp of art and language helps you to express yourself better and, therefore, to be understood (which is a base desire for most humans).
    Also, these are quick, off the cuff responses and I am aware that the answers are barely outlined, but they do exist and I have seen, been involved with or created many solutions to the educational problems. One little classroom, even one little rural school, is hardly a force to change the educational landscape, but ripples do make waves when they touch the shore!
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      Mar 18 2012: I can tell this is a subject you are passionate about! It seems you have put some thought into it as well. You might be interested in Seth Godin's new manifesto on education if reform is something you feel drawn into. Regarding entrepreneurship, I definitely agree that the current system is not built to develop those interests. However, it's kind of challenging because entrepreneur's likely make up a small % of the population. These educational questions are personally relevant to me as we are considering them in light of our children.
  • Mar 17 2012: Unfortunately the schools I attended focused on following directions as the way to solve all problems and I lost the directions to this particular problem. I think my dog ate them! Just kidding, but it does bring up a valid point. Those "disruptive" kids in school, who don't give a lick if they pass or not, are often the craftiest, brightest, most unique individuals in the school. We must look to them for our inspiration. They are often born leaders or brilliant people who like to work behind the scenes. IMHO - Here's what's happening:
    1. Teachers are not taught enough about human growth and development. I've been through the child development programs and the K-12 programs and found that they each lack what the other needs. All programs also need to focus more on child guidance and discipline. The issues are so sticky there that nobody wants to deal with it - yet that's where a lot of strong teachers are failing.
    2. The power structure is backwards. Teachers have control of the classroom, right? But, don't we always say that ít's the "child's classroom", for the children? If we begin teaching children to run their own classrooms in pre-school then they will be able to run their own classrooms in later years and the teacher will take his/her rightful place as an instructor, a reference and resource gatherer and an elder wise to the culture. This is complicated, but possible and it works very well.
    3. Age separation. What? That is so unnatural. Family units are made up of children of different ages. They learn with and from each other. We need to group children according to their interests, which means that the groups will change as their interests change with the natural progression of their development.
    4. I'm running out of room. Suffice to say that there are many solutions. Reggio Emelia works. The Netherlands has a unique system that works for their culture. And... I've said enough!
  • Mar 16 2012: Life of an achieved entrepreneur in itself is a matter of education.

    As every asset of human kind plays a significance role so as formal education, but not a limitation if it is not.

    Education and experience are the gears of a vehicle allowing the speed one by one. The education must be formal or not, doesn't carry much significance.

    Entrepreneurship is a combination of taking responsibility, challenging risks, making meaningful life for others and self by his products, services and ideas. This is about involving people for reaching their goals by helping each other.

    So education is important, formal or not - doesn't carry a big significance, but can be an advantage at the beginning.
  • Mar 16 2012: I think that wisdom and knowledge are totally pursuable without formal education, so leaders are made (by themselves, not even by formal education) not born in a sense, because it requires study, yes, but study does not need to be formal.

    Leaders are born, because the pursue of the needed knowledge is embeded into the person in some kind of way. Some seek it, some do not.
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    Mar 14 2012: actually it is related about that how much time does formal education take time from us? i am studying now but at the same time i have many projects in my mind to do. but i have a lot things to do for my studies and so there is no time to develop myself out of formal education. So, if there is no balance, it can be really harmful. i dont think so that all topics that we learn at schools are so beneficial. Some of them are really useless. I believe that people can learn in real manner when they experience. Probably they think that we want to do something after studies but this is not true
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      Mar 17 2012: Ufuk, where are you studying if I may ask? I know what you mean, in fact, I can relate. I went to college and was simultaneously launching a business at the time. To be honest, I was learning much more from my real world activities. At the same time, some (very few) of my classes offered an interesting perspective on some of my entrepreneurial activities but most classes (for me) were geared toward making me a corporate employee. I found some value, but most of the content, in my experience, wasn't applicable. Yet, many of us feel we must have a degree to obtain real world credibility. Strange. Do you plan on pursuing your ideas while you are in school or does your coursework demand that you wait?
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        Mar 17 2012: Hey Brant,

        I study in Poland as you said most of studies aim to prepare students for companies. I hear so much time words which is starting like "for companies". However i wanna hear more entrepreneurship or our own business. But, still i am trying to go on my way and pursue my ideas eventhough i dont have much time after studies. Maybe i am moving with small steps but it is better to be waiting i think. i guess you pursued your ideas while you were studying, didnt you ?

        Cheers!
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          Mar 18 2012: Yes, it's possible to pursue both, but it has its challenges. One thing I did to use my school time efficiently was this. Whenever possible, I would select research papers that allowed me to research the market or customer demographics I was also doing business in. That way my time spent studying (sometimes) crossed over into my business activities. The other thing available today is outsourcing. I do a ton of that now. There are lots of sites on the net these days that allow you to delegate some of your business tasks to workers, and it can be quite cost effective. All the best, would love to hear about the ideas you want to pursue.
  • Mar 13 2012: No it does not what actually plays that role is the educator. The teachers are the main contributors that egnite the passion to like a specific activity and the need to develop your skills to succeed in it.
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    Mar 12 2012: Steven: Quote: "But to suggest that he was "born" to be a leader is to suggest that Lincoln didn't take great pains to study (of his own accord) philosophy, history etc. What gave Lincoln, MLK, Newton the impetus to study and learn to the degree they did? I'd wager it wasn't genetics but other people. Undoubtedly, there were people in there lives that instilled in them a thirst for knowledge and awareness. This thirst is planted by other (previously) thirsty people. Are some "born" more thirsty than others? To a degree, perhaps but I really think it's the environment that makes the man."

    I respect your belief that such may be life for you!

    Maybe semantics are a problem here. As I would say to a close friend: Listen to my words, do not assume that you know what I am thinking, really HEAR what I am saying. (In this case reading)

    We have a consciousness do we not? Some people call it soul, some universal intelligence. Those are only labels of "what makes us tick" as individuals and do the labels really matter?

    In short: This is what my life experience has taught me:

    Thinking that I could be a good leader through hard work, education genetics and other people is, to me, like saying that I can learn to paint like Rembrandt or Picasso through hard work, education, genetics and other people.
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      Mar 13 2012: Yes, the nurture vs nature debate began shortly after the chicken and the egg, or was it the other way around? :)

      At any rate, I think both sides are valid. What I see in your last statement is there needs to be a gift present to start (Rembrandt), but then it needs further development and practice. I think we get it wrong when we think we can practice a gift into place that was never there to begin with, and also when we rest on a gift and never develop it to its fullest potential. Hopefully we can recognize our gifts AND develop them, as well as understand where we aren't gifted and invest our practice hours in better areas of life. That might be ideal, but that is the best of both sides of the debate in my opinion.
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        Mar 15 2012: imo, we are all born with at least one gift. What, in part is lacking is nurturing. We tend to brainwash our children to follow the leader, to be like everyone else. To stifle creativity. Yes each point IS valid, Yes there are always more than one way to look at an issue.
        So if I go from: We all have at least one inborn gift: In that case nurturing becomes the priority.
        There are a lot of people in "leadership" roles. Maybe too many would have been better of doing something else.
        We live in a world that today, imo, is full of mediocracy. Partly because the lack of nurturing, which most likely is a result of not taking into consideration that we all are gifted in some way.
        The environment can only nurture, feed, starve or destroy "the gifts". The environment cannot produce the gift!
        Then again do you need a gift to be an entrepreneur?? Only, imo if you are also going to be an inventor. And that was my earlier mistake: I made an incorrect assumption that an entrepreneur is also a creator. From reading the many replies, that is obviously Not the case. My apologies :)
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    Mar 12 2012: I think formal education plays the same roll in everyones life no matter where you end up. Education gives you the tools to be a grownup. Most entrepeneurs are born with a personality that allows them to take enormous risks for a chance of an enormous outcome. Many of them go bankrupt several times before they have long lasting success. For most of us the stresswould be fatal. How often do you hear stories about how some one who is now a millionaire started their buisness by quiting their job and mortgaging their house to finance an idea that sounded rediculous at the time?
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      Mar 13 2012: I believe there is something commonly shared by way of a personality trait in entrepreneurs, or at least it's a shared quality. I know there are plenty of studies out there on this, can anyone reference a link?
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      Mar 11 2012: Thanks for your response, but I'm not following your point. What are your thoughts on the question at hand?
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        Mar 11 2012: Education tends to stifle young minds. Maybe one reason has to do with the fact that most children, many teenagers and adults retain learning best from hands on experience. Possibly related to why many entrepreneurs leave school "unfinished".
        Mentorship has been a proven method of teaching. We even used to have apprenticeships.

        I think that expertise in any field is often more a result of self-study than formal education which too often dogmatize studies, producing "experts" in extremely narrow fields who more often than not, submit to peer-pressure. Because of the limiting environment in many fields, many truly creative people/entrepreneurs may simply be bored; And/or know that "rocking the boat" will most likely harm their careers. They may also not be learning what they think or know they need to know and learn
        We are not often rewarded for creative thinking and boredom is a powerful destroyer of loving to learn.
        After all how much of the theories we studied in college do we still remember? And how much of what was "facts" then have changed. New theories, new "facts". Are people then not better off testing their skills and pushing their abilities on their own or hopefully with a mentor.?
        Bryann, above, says it quite succinctly :)
        In short my answer is Yes :)
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          Mar 12 2012: Per your comment above:

          @Lisi, While I admire the list you put forth and don't for a minute argue that these people didn't succeed in spite of opposition I would also suggest that perhaps they succeeded *because* of opposition. Sometimes in life obstacles are what make us great, wouldn't you agree?

          Can you imagine Abe Lincoln having the degree of empathy he had for the common man had he not been born a poor child of uneducated farmers? There is no doubt that genetics play a part in any persons path in life. Had Lincoln been born developmentally "challenged" there is no way he rises to the levels he did. But to suggest that he was "born" to be a leader is to suggest that Lincoln didn't take great pains to study (of his own accord) philosophy, history etc. What gave Lincoln, MLK, Newton the impetus to study and learn to the degree they did? I'd wager it wasn't genetics but other people. Undoubtedly, there were people in there lives that instilled in them a thirst for knowledge and awareness. This thirst is planted by other (previously) thirsty people. Are some "born" more thirsty than others? To a degree, perhaps but I really think it's the environment that makes the man.
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    Mar 11 2012: Great question Brant.

    I'm gonna have to twist this a bit by saying yes, formal education can play a significant role for entrepreneurs because it shows them what's essential, and what is not, especially after the experience.

    There's two sides to the irony. First, it's not uncommon to hear school veterans confess that B-school inhibited more than helped. There's a difference between studying lots of theory and actually executing an idea. I think you'll find a lot of this resonates for young tech startup founders who forego the formal stuff and go straight into an incubator or accelerator instead, preferring to work side-by-side with angels and other veteran entrepreneurs.

    Second, entrepreneurs emerge a little more savvier in the types of people they choose and employ. Sometimes we need to assemble a small team with good chemistry to make ideas happen. Like Xavier's points below (above?), we would probably prefer someone with drive and some leadership qualities. Not a cog or a brown-noser.
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      Mar 11 2012: Wow, great points. Specifically, new found access to accelerators and incubators (in lieu of formality) and also the perspective of hiring strong, trained talent. I think you hit on the entrepreneurial mindset right there. E.g., what's the quickest way from A to B, and how can I delegate and leverage in the smartest way possible. Great post.
  • Mar 11 2012: I think formal education is not associated with the outcomes of one's business activities or perfomance.
    In my experience, everyone has a suitable role and job which they are good at. Formal education institutes can not practice them, there is no way.
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    Mar 11 2012: first off your asking a question then giving it rules what if depends was the answer you've just left out your solution to the problem.you asked a paradoxical because with or without the education your still in business.unless the education is mediatory?
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    Mar 10 2012: I think it is funny that you said don't say depends when asking about outcomes. On to the question, look at Steve Jobs who was a successful CEO, founder, and idea generator and then went to college. Upon graduation he said "now I can get a real job". If dealing with highly technical application then probally yes. If running a cleaning service probally not. At times education may put you inside a box that a visionary does not know exists. Your question is certainly subject to point of view and application restrictions. A condrum with arguments equally sound for both sides. Best. Bob
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      Mar 11 2012: Robert, the *depends* was kind of tongue-in-cheek to avoid that answer without further explanation, sorry.:) Anyway, I agree that it's difficult to be self taught without rigorous peer review for highly technical pursuits. I have family members who are micro-biologists and that career path is improbable by simply practicing in the basement. But to your point, the person who owns the lab may simply see the value in hiring people who were trained by universities to work on their end product. Which brings us back to Steve Jobs. From my knowledge(, he wasn't a university trained programmer but he had a ton of programmers working for him on his vision. BTW, did Jobs graduate college? I'm not sure that he did, but I'm not 100% sure. http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidewalt/2011/10/05/steve-jobs-2005-stanford-commencement-address/ ) You're right, tons of outliers to complicate things. Thanks for sharing your input on the question!
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        Mar 11 2012: I think your right about college. My bad. Thanks for your reply.
  • Mar 8 2012: Actually, speaking of appliances has me thinking. What about a battery powered toaster that is basically glued on top of one of those Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners. Those Roombas teach themselves, and return to their docking station when they need to recharge. The toaster would produce two pieces of toast at a time and bring to you in the room, and the little Roomba would quietly clean up all the crumbs when you're done. Perhaps they could even make a deluxe version that could make four pieces of toast at one time! Somebody call Ron Popeil, I've got a million dollar idea to sell him:)
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      Mar 8 2012: Funny! That reminds me of the alarm clock that cooks bacon that I once saw on the show "Shark Tank." Except, you idea sounds safer and more entertaining.
  • Mar 8 2012: "Metrics over idea creation." That sums up almost every business model in the world right there. Of course people rarely talk of those hum-drum businesses who only produce tired, but time tested products that others have already done the hard work of pioneering. However, when you are buying shares in a company, boring, slow and steady starts to look extremely appealing. That is one of the main reasons why publicly traded companies with literally hundred million dollar research and development budgets still seem to produce appliances or some other such boring items.

    Much like the artist analogy, people may speak well of good artists eventually, but they rave and shout about truly original artists and their works. Groundbreaking, trendsetting, those that push the boundaries; these are the ones that someone well still talk about a century from now. If an artist or an entrepreneur never creates anything new and original, they are destined to just blend in to the background noise in their respective fields.
    This is why I personally consider people like franchise owners or those who have inherited a business as something other than entrepreneurs, perhaps much less than entrepreneurs. These people seem to me like glorified managers for the most part and really nothing more. That may be a bit harsh but I doubt that anyone could ever say that they became an entrepreneurs because of that guy down the street that owns the Subway restaurant.
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      Mar 8 2012: I know exactly what you're talking about regarding the business owner vs entrepreneur comment. I've thought about that for some time, actually. I agree that there are different types, in fact, I recently did a blog post about the 5 types of entrepreneurs that I see. If you have interest in my perspective on it, I'll put the link here. I think the subway owner would fit in the "self employed" category on this post. (Not trying to be self-serving, but it's appropriate to the point.) http://whiteboardentrepreneur.com/types-of-entrepreneurs/

      There are definitely different characteristics between a franchise owner and a person who starts a trendsetting business. Do you know any franchise owners? Have you found that they have identified themselves as entrepreneurs? The only one I knew started the franchise and sold them, of course he saw himself as an entrepreneur as he started it from scratch.
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    Mar 8 2012: I think there are many examples of people having very limited formal education, some barely literate, becoming very successful as entrepreneurs - but I believe they are more the exception than the rule. Then, as they get more successful, they turn to the highest level of education 'employees' they can find for the running of the business because they believe this it a 'good investment' for the 'outcomes of the business activity'. So I would have to say that 'formal ed' doesn't have a significant influence on the entrepreneur becoming successful - until they become successful. Then it changes.
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      Mar 8 2012: Interesting. So are you saying that entrepreneurs see value in hiring good managers for what they create?
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        Mar 8 2012: Yes. Absolutely - as long as the business gets successful enough to warrant the expense. As I consider this question further, I see the entrepreneur has a specific role as the 'spark', the vision, and the dedication to and the demonstration of the idea - not necessarily good management material. And I think the successful one's know it. Manager's need to be talented with the structures, and the manipulation of the components of the business, with specific expertise - not necessarily good visionaries. The not-formally-educated entrepreneur will have a rudimentary understanding of the components of their enterprise through the experience of its growth. But for long-term strength and success, they need specific expertise, and the successful one's want the best they can find.
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          Mar 8 2012: Totally agree. An illustration I think of is that entrepreneurs are like general contractors who build houses. They have a big picture of what they want the finished product to look like and what they want it to accomplish. Then, they surround themselves with specialists in areas of plumbing, electric, finishing, etc. Now, some general contractors know how to do plumbing or electric, and maybe that is their lens for designing the house. Perhaps they first received training in that smaller category before expanding into home building, and that's how education benefited them. But other general contractors (entrepreneurs) may never focus on the sub-areas but simply be great leaders with a vision, utilizing the skills of others. Today, some tech entrepreneurs were first specialists in their technical trade, and a company spawned as a result of their programming, etc.. Others just bring the vision, or spark as you so well put it, and hire the specialized training to help build their idea.
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    Mar 7 2012: As an entrepreneur myself, surrounded with similar minded people, both starting and successful, here is roughly the order of what it takes to become a success as an entrepeneur..

    1) Just happening to know the right people
    2) Luck
    3) Born into money and power
    4) Risk taking
    5) Leadership qualities
    6) A good idea

    and somewhere down in rank 15+ we have intellect and education.
    As hard as it is to believe, education and intellect are not typically vital skills to become successful in this way.

    I've hardly ever seen someone who's successful who have either
    1) Received quality education
    2) Remembed their education
    3) Used their education in their business interests
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      Mar 7 2012: Good points. While I'm sure there are examples of successful entrepreneurs who used their education (Jeff Bezos comes to mind), I tend to agree that this is maybe the exception and not the norm. You accurately recognize that one's network, leadership, drive, and risk taking are all things that a degree can't provide. So perhaps the question is really, what is the best way create an environment to foster future entrepreneurs? Maybe it's not a formal education, but is there a way to encourage and support them to increase the likelihood of success? What are their needs?
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    Mar 7 2012: Hi Brant,

    I work a lot with entrepreneurs and young people in startups frequently ask this question. The reality is that no, you don't need formal education to become a successful entrepreneur. Just as you have stated with Gates, Jobs, or the Google guys - if you are bright and motivated with good ideas, you'll eventually find success as an entrepreneur.

    However, the reality is that the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have advanced degrees - in many cases PhDs. And as an entrepreneur, you always need a fall-back plan in case the business you are working on tanks and you need to get a 9-5 job for a while to pay the bills. Always easier with some letters behind your name.

    If I were advising someone who was considering starting a business, I would advise them to go ahead and get that formal education. Or better yet, pursue the formal education while starting the business.
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      Mar 7 2012: Robin, I think education plays an important role in technical areas such as with tech, like you mentioned. However, entrepreneurs tend to think differently in that they would simply find/hire/partner with technical people where needed vs learn the skills themselves. It's a great concept to pursue a degree and launch your business at the same time, but in reality, that's pretty tough to divide your energies and attention like that. Sergey Brin, who is a polymath, and Larry Page had to decide if they were going to finish their Stanford degrees or start Google. The academic advisor told them to go try Google. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.08/battelle.html I think it's hard to do both. And somethings having a 'fall back' leaves an open mental window that causes one to be tentative vs. take the bold steps required to be successful.
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    Mar 7 2012: Bastian, you make a good point that education and application should court and be married. I guess some examples to better illustrate my question would be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or even the Google guys. All were clearly smart, as they were enrolled (and bored) at ivy league schools. Yet, they left to develop an idea that school didn't necessarily equip them for doing. (Larry Page came across the google idea from his thesis, so education instigated rather than supplied the idea.) Thoughts?
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      Mar 7 2012: I think that this is key that when you learn about things that you have always liked, you either be inspired by theories of others that you learn during your studies or they might even be the piece of the puzzle for the realistic implementation of your own concepts or ideas.

      Passionate people might welcome other theories that are related to the field they are already interested in.

      And I think following the right discipline and having the best information is also crucial to be successful.
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    Mar 7 2012: Formal education needs the cognitive relation to real world situations. I experienced two examples myself.

    One was a young manager who straight away started to implement new management styles that he had learned within the company that seemed to work very well.

    The second is from my time at the national guard; Someone who studied was automatically one rank higher than someone who didn't studied, regardless that the later was at the national guard for all his life, he could only become a high sergeant. There i experienced the higher rank (studied one) always asking the lower one (ages of practical experiences) what he should do.