How the St. John’s Great Books Education Prepared me to be an Entrepreneur.
After graduating St. John’s I was convinced I would get a PhD in political philosophy from some good Straussian school; that, or I would go to law school. Sound familiar? These are valuable career paths, and a few of my best friends went down them; however, I’m here to make the case that the St. John’s education prepares every one of its graduates for another career: Entrepreneurship.
I will not argue that you can shoehorn the St. John’s education into entrepreneurship the way you can into any job. I’m going to argue that St. John’s students are in my opinion the absolutely the best candidates to be entrepreneurs in our society. For the following reason:
Let’s first clear the air about entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur today is very different than 30 years ago. Entrepreneurs used to be straight business people — they sold widgets nobody needed, wore suits, and they had more money than they know what to do with. In short they were sell outs.
Today being an entrepreneur is a creative and educational lifestyle. For the entrepreneur, Marketing is about conversations and out-teaching your competition. Product Development is about having insight and intuition to solve problems or realize opportunities that people don’t even know they have, and then testing your hypotheses scientifically in the market place. Teamwork is about inspiring and mentoring a team of diverse and creative people. More than these details — being an entrepreneur is damn fun.
The goal of an entrepreneur is at its core scientific: to discover and prove repeatable and scalable business models. Which means that most of the time, you don’t know if what you are doing is right or is gonna work. Sound familiar? Normal schooling makes people feel very uncomfortable with doubt. At St. John’s we dip into doubt at least once a day and most of us spend the majority of our 4 years there. We learn how to operate and perform in doubt, not be frozen or demotivated by it.
The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries is the Great Book of startups. It gives its readers a road map and the reasoning behind a new way to do venture creation. Ries suggests that it is through hypothesis, experimentation, metrics, and iteration that an entrepreneur succeeds at discovering a repeatable and scalable business model. Johnnies more than other students (even more than the scientists I know), are great at following the scientific method, and therefore the entrepreneurial method that Ries suggests.
Some of the best ideas come from mixing old ideas with new problems. Traditional universities generally impart a historical perspective of about 50 years and teach students to silo their minds and curiosity within one speciality. St. John’s does exactly the opposite. St. John’s imparts a historical perspective that is thousands of years long and formally denies any distinction in disciplines. Johnnies graduate with a second nature of building connections across history and disciplines. Because of this, Johnnies have an unfair advantage in creativity over other forms of university schooling.
Every startup needs a Visionary, a Hacker, and a Hustler. Johnnies are probably commonly not trained to be a Hustler, but then again no education prepares people for that. On the visionary and hacker side though, I see johnnies having suitable traits.
Marketing and Branding today is no longer the one way street of the TV commercial, billboard, and magazine ad. Now marketing is a conversation. So is Business Development and Sales. So the ability to listen actively and then respond in terms our interlocutors can understand, the ability to be dialectical and rhetorical, are absolutely invaluable to this new world.
Also you could go to a nearby Startup Weekend. Absolutely priceless to attend one of these events.
This article was also published on Medium and appears here with the permission of the author
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