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MBA News: The Myth of the Dropout Entrepreneur

Every entrepreneur dreams of striking it big by sheer force of innovation. But dropping out of school, creating an ingeniously novel tech start-up and joining the ranks of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg may not be the most prudent approach, according to an article published in Forbes this week. “It’s a classic case of survivor bias,” says Larry Smith, a professor of economics at Waterloo University. “What about ‘John Henry’ and the 420,000 other people who tried ventures and failed?” Smith asks—adding that the idea of choosing ignorance as a path to innovation is “positively silly.”

A recent New York Times article featured a group of aspiring business leaders who are trying their hand at making money by learning from experience rather than investing in a degree. But others, such as Smith, are suggesting that such dropout tech entrepreneurs may be misinterpreting success stories—like that of Steve Jobs—as downplaying the value of education, professional skills and academic qualifications. Jobs, who supplanted his college classes with calligraphy classes (giving him an aesthetic insight that later served as an important factor in Apple’s success), advised a graduating class at Stanford to pursue success by doing what they love, even if inspiration comes from unexpected places. But leaving room for “serendipity” and personal discovery, the article argues, does not mean future business leaders should throw formal education out the window. In fact, the communication, leadership and analytic skills afforded by higher education are more often than not seen as essential in business, even by some of the same renowned employers to whom the dropout-start-up dream is often attributed, such as Bill Gates. As for those looking to work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the article advises students: “Don’t bother applying unless you have a college degree, a master’s or doctorate, and an MBA.”




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