Training takes many forms, but how is an entrepreneur made? There may be more value in hands-on experience. BRENDAN LEWIS
By Brendan Lewis
My five year old son is addicted to Star Wars. He and I have sat together for hours either watching the movies or endlessly playing Lego Star Wars. It may be bad parenting, but one of my current tools to get him to behave is to say “you can’t start your Jedi training unless you’re being good”.
Now for those that don’t know, to become a Jedi you have to have the right stuff. And if you have it, you can go to the the Jedi Training Academy where you, along with hundreds of others, spend years learning before you become a Jedi Master. Going to the Jedi Training Academy is held out to be the pinnacle of society.
The Jedis of course have their arch enemies, which are the Sith Lords. The Sith Lords have the similar powers, but use them in a different way (the Dark Side of the Force). However the Sith Lords training is completely different. They have one-on-one training in a master/apprentice model.
So why am I talking about Star Wars? I’m not; I am actually talking about learning models for entrepreneurs.
I’m starting to feel quite strongly that Australian universities are over rated as the right training model for most careers. Certainly it can have value, but it’s not the be all and end all. Every institution seems to want to get the coveted university status (and funding) and other training environments such as TAFEs are generally looked down upon.
I recently I did some mentoring for an undergraduate entrepreneurship student. His course was focused on areas such as business plan development and opportunity analysis, it had some nice models (abstraction from reaility scares me) but I started to wonder what value it provided.
In fact looking around I noticed an interesting point – “entrepreneurship courses” at different universities didn’t have as much overlap in content as you would expect. I then looked at what I believe are the skills, knowledge and attributes entrepreneurs need to have, and came to the conclusion that it was not stuff being taught at university.
It was areas like:
- Sales skills (because you are always selling, yourself, your product or your business).
- Creativity (understanding different deal models and creating and negotiating new ones).
- Credibility (to buyers, sellers and bankers).
- Persistence (emotional robustness and self belief).
- Networks (because most opportunities come from people).
- Street smarts (because a die that roles 99 sixes in a row, just has to be loaded).
You note I haven’t put professional skills in the above list. That’s because accountants, lawyers and analysts can be purchased easily (and normally at a discount in a recession!)
From my point of view then, entrepreneurship training at university is unlikely to have much value in the real world (especially undergraduate level training). Now I am sure that every lecturer would shout at me, and call me a fool. I know there are lots of arguments why their course has value, but that doesn’t necessarily make them right.
What sticks in my mind is this. Every single entrepreneur I have ever met would happily swap a fully paid MBA at Stanford University for 12 months apprenticeship at no pay to the likes of Kerry Stokes or Jamie Packer, or even more so with internationals like Britain’s Sir Richard Branson or New Zealand’s Graeme Hart.
I believe that that in itself is the strongest argument against university training in entrepreneurship.
My point is that if you want to be an Eentrepreneur, getting yourself a quality mentor or mentors will do a hell of a lot more for your career than a piece of paper on a wall.
But anyway back to Star Wars. Apparently Sith Lords draw upon strong emotions as the source of their power, only care about themselves, and crave power above all else. I might have to figure out how to get some Sith Lord training for the boy.
Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.
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