The tragic bureaucracy of academics teaching entrepreneurship

June 1, 2016 by Joshua
in Education, Entrepreneurship

Einstein said

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war

which I would apply in the context of entrepreneurship

You cannot simultaneously prevent and create bureaucracy

and in education

You cannot simultaneously make a student dependent and independent

yet universities seem to try to do both. I think professors feel too much incentive to create programs, centers, and institutes to stop themselves.

I’ve seen professors and administrators spend years chasing government grants, leading students to chase government grants, to create centers and institutes of entrepreneurship, never mentioning anything about customers or sales. In those years, I didn’t see them actually help students. Their plan was to create the entrepreneurial program first, then work with the students.

I’ve seen professors and administrators, meaning to promote entrepreneurship, plan how to get big companies to come to campus to give internships to undergraduates — not giving the students skills to find openings themselves, let alone to create them. If that plan still sounds entrepreneurial enough, those same people in the same meeting lamented the resources it took to hire an outside team to update their project’s web page — at an engineering school.

Let me restate: professors and administrators wanted outside companies to hire students to make them entrepreneurial, while they didn’t hire students for projects at their own school!

Why should an outside company hire students you yourself don’t consider for work that you train them for? Do you trust your own students? Do you trust your own curriculum? Students working on their school’s projects affects themselves. You can give them work they care about. If they can’t deliver, you can find flaws in your curriculum. You can save time and money and improve your program!

I’ve seen rooms full of students listening to seminars for how to spend months chasing government money to learn to develop research ideas into entrepreneurial projects. Sounds interesting at first, but the practice involves working on the schedules of the programs, not of customers, the market, or the potential entrepreneurs. A lot of the government money would go to flying the team to remote places, housing them, paying speakers, and overhead unrelated to entrepreneurship, even opposed to it.

Meanwhile, many applicants don’t win and now wasted their time learning anti-entrepreneurial behaviors that the schools and government taught.

I don’t oppose government programs, but Einstein’s quote and my paraphrases resonate, looking at the resources taken from the economy and then spent creating bureaucracy.

I understand that people created some ways to teach entrepreneurship, but they seem to have grown them in bureaucratic, anti-entrepreneurial ways, which results in them creating bureaucratic, anti-entrepreneurial programs.

How do I know? Because people who took those programs look at my courses and tell me they see what those programs missed.

Because my students win their business-plan contests, even when I tell them not to get distracted by programs unrelated to their customers and markets. I believe they win because they don’t let themselves be distracted.

Because graduates of my entrepreneurship course tell me they outsell professional salespeople, using the techniques in my courses, without taking a sales course. I guarantee the government programs don’t teach students to hustle like that.

It may seem melodramatic, but their work reminds me of the opening of Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.

Learn to make Meaningful Connections

with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.


  • Step by step instructions
  • Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
  • An excerpt from my book

Powered by ConvertKit

2 responses on “The tragic bureaucracy of academics teaching entrepreneurship

  1. I found myself nodding along as I read through this post. I’ve seen it firsthand as well and have experienced it. All the entrepreneurs I know (from small business to start-ups) were guided by experience; they learned to find the answers/resources that they needed by themselves, not through textbooks, seminars, or some other passive means. That’s not to say there isn’t value in the latter, just that I’ve also noticed there’s a huge emphasis on the latter and an almost non-existent emphasis on the former. Do you feel this stems from the lack of entrepreneurs involved with academia, the nature of academia, or something else?

    • Academia is built on teaching facts, information, and knowledge. It teaches analysis. Academics see themselves as masters. In some ways they are — at knowing facts and analyzing them. They are often poor at teaching skills or action but don’t realize it, so they don’t stop themselves from teaching non-intellectual stuff the same way they teach intellectual stuff. So they teach about entrepreneurship instead of how to do it without realizing it.

      Entrepreneurs don’t know much about how to teach and the more successful they are in other fields, the less likely they are to teach.

      In any case, I’m less interested in analyzing the problems than solving them, which is what I’ve done in creating my courses. Do they solve the problem forever for everyone? I doubt it. But I think they’ll work for many people in many contexts. Plus, I believe they’ll point others to apply the ideas in other areas to help people my courses don’t.

Leave a Reply to Jay Cancel reply