“Startup” is perhaps the hottest word of 2015. While entrepreneurship classes have become the most popular classes at many universities and business schools, this is not the case at liberal arts colleges. The attitude is typically “we are a liberal arts college, not a business school”, or “the practical nature of entrepreneurship does not fit in a general, theoretical liberal arts system”. Is this really true? I think it’s time for us to discuss what entrepreneurship is, and why it is relevant to a liberal arts education.
Entrepreneurship is fundamentally problem-solving through innovation, passion, perseverance, and courage. Though it is rooted in business, entrepreneurship generates enormous power to positively impact the world. Here are five reasons why entrepreneurship is relevant.
1. It’s all about an entrepreneurial mindset
Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking. It requires approaching a problem through an innovative lens, to run trials, to take risks, to pursue one’s passion and not be afraid to fail. It is not just the right attitude students should have when they make their career choices, but also the right attitude to live their lives.
Being entrepreneurial does not mean you have to run your own company. It helps you solve pressing issues when working at a big corporation. In other words, you can be an “intrapreneur”, a person promoting innovation inside an organization. Being entrepreneurial does not hurt students’ dreams of working at a renowned company; on the contrary, it boosts their careers.
2. Critical thinking & Problem solving: Liberal Arts Education makes great entrepreneurs
Steve Jobs said: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.”
It is true that a liberal arts education prepares a student to be great entrepreneurs. In fact, the LinkedIn profile of liberal-arts colleges suggests that “entrepreneurship” is among the top five areas alumni are pursuing. A liberal arts curriculum promotes critical thinking, and the small classroom setting encourages students to raise questions and creatively seek solutions. A broad exposure of knowledge allows students to explore interests in all areas, which means they will understand more than just one area of focus. Just like what Chip Manning, director of the Babson Center for Global Commerce at Sewanee said, “many of today’s leaders in commerce attribute their success to the critical thinking skills, effective writing and speaking skills, and study of the human experience that are the core of the liberal arts tradition.” Instead, a broad-based liberal arts education can be the best preparation for a career in business. There is so much room for us to make that connection, and allow for students to understand what their education is actually worth to them.
3. Real world experiences matters
When asked what their biggest regrets are after finishing their liberal arts education, many alumni say they wish they could have developed solid practical skill sets. Some graduating seniors are severely stressed out even discussing where they are going next year. An education that builds great soft skills prepares them for success in the long run, but the lack of hard skills causes them to lose out in the current competitive job market. In fact, working with an early stage startup enables students to get their hands on a variety of tasks, and develop insights as to how the market works. Through this process, students discover their strengths and weaknesses and polish their skills. A practical experience combined with a broad-focused education, students should be ready for any challenge.
4. The greatest way to innovate
Entrepreneurship drives innovation. We have seen companies such as Paypal, Uber, and SpaceX disrupting traditional systems and making products ten times better. Entrepreneurs do not see problems, but rather opportunities. If a liberal arts education aims to prepare students to change the world, then why not promote entrepreneurship?
5. Why haven’t you found your passion?
According to the Washington Post, only 13% of the world actually likes their work. While many students express that they would like to dedicate their lives to pursuing something they love, the majority, unfortunately, end up getting trapped in a vicious cycle of trading their time for money. The reasons are complex. The most important two are, first, students haven’t realized what they are passionate about, and second, even if they are aware of their passion, they are not taught to be risk-taking.
There is really no shortcut to finding one’s passion. But to get there, a person needs to be genuinely curious, open-minded and willing to try out anything that interests them. A small interest develops into a big interest, which could develop into a life-long passion. Following a pre-existing path does give a young person a lot of security. But it is important for students to realize that time is their most important asset. Would you like to trade the prime years of your life for financial security? Being entrepreneurial allows students to explore possibilities.
Entrepreneurship is not just relevant to a liberal arts education, but crucial. By combing theoretical and practical, general and specific, thinking and acting, we can educate and inspire tomorrow’s passionate learners, innovative change-makers, and visionary leaders.
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