Friday, July 22, 2016

Play it Safe!

One of my friend’s sons is studying ‘Entrepreneurship’ in college.  He wants to get a degree in it.  I am happy that the university is offering an opportunity to study something besides Neo-European Obscure Literature in Funny Languages, although I understand that the major is making a comeback.  We’ll be flooded once again with people who have to choose politics as their means of support because they are otherwise unemployable.  I do hear that the Ministry of Silly Walks (Monty Python???) is hiring.

I didn’t realize that one needed to study and get a degree in order to be an entrepreneur.  This is a very confusing major.  Entrepreneurship is not a profession and it really isn’t a science.  It must be a liberal art, in which case I hope that the prerequisite English classes teach them how to write decent emails. 

Entrepreneurs usually start out with a product, service or pitch that they want to sell.  They have a strong belief in the product, and a stronger belief that they are the ones to push it.  They take on the responsibility to solve problems, support their families and they risk their own capital.  They are willing to work long hours and perform all sorts of non-executive work.  Above all else, successful entrepreneurs learn as they go and spend a lot less time blaming other people or ‘circumstances’ for any failures they might endure.

I’ve observed the successes and failures of businesses over many years.  I find it interesting that the failure rate of businesses does not seem to relate to the existence of a degree in entrepreneurship.  So why do we have such a thing in the first place?

Years ago, we had lots of choices if we just wanted a degree.  We could choose from such wonderful options as Art History, Geography, Political Science, English Literature or my personal favorite (because they made it up just for me in order to get my sorry butt out of college), Mathematical Ecology.  It didn’t cost much to go to college.  When we finally made up our minds about what we wanted to be when we grew up, we went back to grad school, or just went to work.

Today, it isn’t that simple.  College costs a fortune.  The general hope is that the student will graduate one day and have enough skills to work a little and pay off the enormous debt they incurred by going to college.  So the majors are a little bit more directed at learning skills.  Well, at least the names look that way.  Hence we have “Entrepreneurship” instead of “Advanced Basket Weaving”.

Of course, there is another aspect that makes a B.A. in Entrepreneurship so interesting.  That is the fact that kids today are overprotected to the point that they have no idea how to take a risk.  Helicopter parents watch their children play safe in helmets, kneepads and protective armor.   Mom and dad do their best to catch little Jimmy before he falls and if he hits the ground, he is whisked up and cuddled until the tears stop.  Of course this just encourages more tears.

"Inc. Magazine"  has charted a slowdown in new companies over the past few years.  They see a more positive future among millennials than I do.  It has to do with taking risks.  If a trophy is given to every participant and if everyone is provided protection from everything, they will never learn to take risks.  They will, however, expect to be compensated and supported for everything that they attempt.  Entrepreneurs don’t get rewarded unless they succeed at their business. 

There is no real need for a four-year degree in Entrepreneurship.  There is, however, a great need for a little restraint in the parenting department.  I laugh when my kids tell me that they are going to be better parents than I ever was.  They interpret that as a whole roomful of soft landings.  The truth is, the scrapes and bruises teach a lot more.  We learn from mistakes and we are more informed each time that we make one.  We assess risk better after failures and we are unwilling to take those risks if we have never learned that failure is not death or dismemberment, that we don’t suffer the fires of hell if we don’t succeed. 

And that is the message that our children and grandchildren should be learning from their much better parents.    

Instead of being ‘afraid to fail’ as so many of our children tell us, they should be afraid not to succeed.  This is the difference never trying and never quitting.  And it doesn’t take a college degree to learn.