Meaningless Research Award: Americans vs. Entrepreneurship

Over the weekend I got an email from a polling company with the startling headline “College Students Aren’t Getting Entrepreneurial Skills.” I’m not going to cite the source here, though, because I want to poke some fun at the poll and its conclusions, and I don’t want to make it personal.

But here’s an opening quote:

Americans also say that traditional teaching methods aren’t the way to teach entrepreneurial skills. Overall, 73 percent report the best way to teach a student to become an entrepreneur is to enable them to create businesses or intern in start-ups. And 76 percent said that students launching a business while still in college will make them more successful [SIC] in creating jobs and opportunities after graduation.

Do you see what’s wrong with this (aside from the grammar)? It says the survey asked 2,141 Americans. Have they started a business? Have they succeeded in business? Have they taken classes? Who are these people and what makes them authorities on entrepreneurship? It doesn’t say.

What if we pointed it at, say skiing instead of starting businesses. It would go something like this (with grammar corrected):

Americans also say that traditional teaching methods aren’t the way to teach skiing. Overall, 73 percent report the best way to teach students to ski is to strap them on to skis, take them to the top of a mountain, and push them off. And 76 percent said that students who ski off cliffs immediately will be successful in ski competitions and afterwards.

The press release goes on to list these amazing answers from “the critical 18-24 age group” (and who knows better about entrepreneurship, experience, or education than people 18-24)?

  • Sixty-two percent said the most effective way to teach someone to become an entrepreneur was by creating a small business or interning in a start-up. Only 2 percent said it was through class work and lectures.
  • Sixty-nine percent said that work experience is where most learn the skills to become an entrepreneur.
  • Fifty-seven percent said that launching companies in college would make them more successful in creating companies and jobs after graduation.
  • Ninety-three percent said that entrepreneurship is “very important” to the future competitiveness of the American economy.

So they were asking teenagers whether they’d rather do something or go to class? Hmmm.

Here’s what I believe:

  1. The last thing this country needs is less education.
  2. Both education and experience can teach, but they teach different things, and in different ways.
  3. The ideal is both education and experience. Education accelerates learning. Sure, you can learn cash flow the hard way, but it’s easier, and way less expensive, in a classroom. Ideally you want both. Mix your education with experience, and vice-versa. In a pinch, if you can’t afford the education, you can still make it with pure raw entrepreneurship. But it’s harder.
  4. Here are five business fundamentals that business schools don’t teach. And here are five that they do teach.
  5. And, no offense, but the opinions of 2,141 randomly chosen Americans, much less 18-24 year-old Americans, are hardly the best way to figure what’s best for education, experience, or entrepreneurship.

(Image: Darren Pullman/Shutterstock)


  • Tim Berry says:

    Thanks Jamie, I totally agree with you. Tim

  • Jamie Flinchbaugh says:

    Well said. Furthermore, using a few people who dropped out of school and became billionaires is not proof that it’s the right path. It’s just proof that there isn’t one single path to success. School isn’t the only place to learn, but it’s still one of the best mechanisms we have for most of the people.

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