Classroom-smart or street-smart?
A school of business or the school of hard knocks?
Education or experience?
Which is the better foundation for an entrepreneur to build on?
The debate rages with passionate believers in either viewpoint espousing their cause. “See dropouts like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates” say the ones who think education is less important. While the other side names “Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos”. This brings me to the crux of the matter.
I don’t think it is an either or question. If it were that simple, all the successful entrepreneurs would fall in to one or the other category.
I have met brilliant entrepreneurs who have made a business purely on their instinctive grasp of the industry that they are in and their innate business acumen. And I have met entrepreneurs who have started their businesses and run them successfully based on what they learned in classrooms.
Experience and education have their own strengths. And whether education or experience is more important depends on which strengths are necessary in what field. Experience gives you practical learning and therefore the ability to handle real-world, on ground situations. In most cases, experience comes in handy if you have been in a particular field or industry and wish to continue in it.
The downside of depending purely on experience is that you have to find your own way and may not be equipped with tools for in-depth analyses of data and so on. Education, on the other hand, can give you a wider perspective and equip you with analytical and theoretical knowledge.
A good business education gives you the foundation to launch yourself into an entrepreneurial career path. However, education could make things too theoretical, and the real world never seems to work as neatly as the theories do. Ideally, the ‘either or’ relationship between education and experience when it comes to entrepreneurship should be an ‘and’ relationship.
Many entrepreneurs are driven by passion (and a healthy dose of impatience) and may not want to postpone starting their ventures to enroll or complete their studies. However, if you are able to get your business running smoothly, at least to a fashion, it may make sense to update and upgrade your knowledge and skills with a course of some kind – it could even be through distance education or a part-time program.
When I look back to my initial entrepreneurial experiences, what strikes me the most are the varied challenges coming at you from all directions. Finding the solutions to those challenges, therefore, needs to come from a variety of approaches as well. Having the right educational background makes it easier to find solutions to certain kinds of challenges, while practical experience can give you a heads up on the effectiveness or limitations of certain solutions.
As an entrepreneur, you have no choice but to face and solve the challenges. And as long as you are willing to work towards gaining the knowledge – whether in a brick and mortar university or in the university of life – you can make it happen. Because, at the end of the day, the answer usually boils down to knowledge.