Those Who Can't

Michael Metzger

Those who can’t, teach. It’s an old joke, but judging the outcomes of most college courses and programs on “entrepreneurship,” there’s little to laugh about.

Courses on “entrepreneurship” are a rather recent development. Babson College was the first to offer one, in 1967. Today, close to 2,000 full-time professors of entrepreneurship teach at hundreds of colleges and universities offering thousands of courses on the subject, all purporting to prepare students for careers as entrepreneurs. Carl Schramm begs to differ.

An entrepreneur himself, Schramm founded and co-founded several successful companies in the health care, finance and information technology industries. He’s a practitioner, someone with hands-on experience. Following a decade as president of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Schramm became University Professor at Syracuse University, only the 16th person in SU history to hold that title.

Schramm recently wrote an article asking if all these programs on “entrepreneurship” are worthwhile. Not if we measure outcomes. “There is no employer demand for people trained in the ‘art’ of entrepreneurship, nor does the training offer any recognized value in other jobs. Not surprisingly, as the number of entrepreneurship teachers grows, the number of new businesses continues to decline.”1

The problem is that business-school professors are developing these courses. They’re not entrepreneurs. They don’t have hands-on experience. If colleges want to tackle entrepreneurship, they “could learn a lot from how the medical field evolved,” writes Schramm. Medicine went from uneven outcomes to excellence with the introduction of the teaching hospital model, first developed by William Osler.

In 1893, physician William Osler helped create the new Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He established the medical residency, insisting that students learn by treating patients. “He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea,” Osler said, “but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.” Entrepreneurship professors have never gone to sea. They only know how to lecture.

Lecture is largely ineffective. It began in the 14th century with the discovery of classical Greek and Arabic manuscripts. The printing press hadn’t been developed, so texts couldn’t be widely read. Educators began reading them to students via lecture, the word coming from the Latin “to read.” Artwork of that era depicts students falling asleep.

The alternative is what Osler reportedly wanted his epitaph to read: “He taught medical students in the wards.” In 1893, the famous dome at Hopkins was part of the hospital. The wards were the circular hallways around the dome. Legend has it that Osler coined “making the rounds” as residents traveled the circular hallways seeing patients.

In making the rounds in real businesses, researchers at the Kauffman Foundation have discovered that the nation’s fastest-growing businesses are started by 40-year-olds. “Nearly 75 percent of new entrepreneurs are over 35,” writes Schramm. This calls into question why entrepreneurship would ever be considered an undergraduate course.

My sense is that business is the best environment to educate on entrepreneurship. I work with a large corporation seeking to instill an entrepreneurial spirit in its people. They’re doing it via innovation labs. I also work with a number of other businesses working toward the same goal. I help them establish roundtables that operate like a skunkworks or accelerator (innovation) labs. In every case, we measure results – actual entrepreneurship or innovation. Even a few B-Schools, including Harvard Business, have gone this route. They’ve adopted the teaching hospital model. A few years back, HBS canned its professor-penned case studies for live case studies – real people solving complex problems in real companies. That’s how you instill entrepreneurship.

This presents a grand opportunity for the faith community. Every person is made in the image of the Creator God. Every individual is a sub-creator, or entrepreneur. We learn how to make things by hands-on practice, as in “Adam knew Eve” (Gen. 4:1). Knowledge is gained by making the rounds, in this case, Adam and Eve making the rounds with one another – trying, touching, exploring, learning. No lectures.

This is why a recent LinkedIn survey presents a challenge. It indicates that clergy and engineers are the least entrepreneurial occupations today. My sense is most pastors are the product of seminary programs taught by professors who have never read a P&L sheet. They can’t, so they teach. Like begets like. Pastors teach parishioners about “faith and work,” having never worked in or alongside a business. Not surprisingly, as the number of “faith and work” teachers increases, the number of entrepreneurial businesses looking to the church is in decline.

Jesus upbraided the religious leaders of his day for telling others to do what they themselves had never done. If today’s faith community understood how knowledge is best instilled, its leaders would practice, practice, practice – then preach. Who knows? Over time, businesses and B-Schools might notice better results and begin looking to the church for an assist in building entrepreneurial businesses.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike
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1 Carl Schramm, “Teaching Entrepreneurship Gets an Incomplete” The Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2014.

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12 thoughts on “Those Who Can't”

  1. I had to laugh when I read this post because my wife graduated with an entrepeneurship major. Then after a year of waiting tables, she went back to school to become a teacher. Those who can’t;)

  2. I get what you’re saying about academics stumbling when it comes to teaching people how to be entrepreneurs. But I have no clue where you’re going with bringing the church/faith community into the discussion. It sounds simply gratuitous.

  3. Take my yoke rather than joke springs to mind.
    Teachers of data, knowledge, understanding or wisdom ? I can think of some excellent teachers that do not warrant the adage.

  4. Mike Metzger

    Michael: I certainly don’t want to sound gratuitous. As for where the faith community fits, I’ve trained clergy in practicing better approaches and asking better questions of businesspeople. The aim is for the faith community to one day be seen by businesspeople as assisting in the flourishing of their local businesses. In this way, when clergy preach about “faith and work,” they’ve first been practicing.

  5. Thanks, Mike. As one who attempts this ‘way of preaching,’ through your coaching I have seen both the challenge it presents as well as the opportunity it affords.

    Every time I re-frame with/through metaphor or ‘practice’ the topic/idea/message, before or in lieu of preaching, I have seen benefits that are practical, tangible and faith widening. Both in the life of the congregation AND in my own!

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