Category Archives: Business Education

20 Excellent Online TED Talks

TED — stands for Technology, Education, and Design — is a great resource. They recently posted their top 20 most watched talks. This is a great resource. I’m happy to see that I’ve already posted, previously, several of these on this blog. And this is a great list. 

  1. Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity (2006): 13,409,417 views
  2. Jill Bolte Taylor‘s stroke of insight (2008): 10,409,851
  3. Pranav Mistry on the thrilling potential of SixthSense (2009): 9,223,263
  4. David Gallo‘s underwater astonishments (2007): 7,879,541
  5. Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry demo SixthSense (2009): 7,467,580
  6. Tony Robbins asks Why we do what we do (2006): 6,879,488
  7. Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action (2010): 6,050,294
  8. Steve Jobs on how to live before you die (2005): 5,444,022
  9. Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen (2006): 4,966,643
  10. Brene Brown talks about the power of vulnerability (2010): 4,763,038
  11. Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation (2009): 4,706,241
  12. Arthur Benjamin does mathemagic (2005): 4,658,425
  13. Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing your genius (2009): 4,538,037
  14. Dan Gilbert asks: Why are we happy? (2004): 4,269,082
  15. Stephen Hawking asks big questions about the universe (2008): 4,153,105
  16. Jeff Han demos his breakthrough multi-touchscreen (2006): 3,891,251
  17. Johnny Lee shows Wii Remote hacks for educators (2008): 3,869,417
  18. Keith Barry does brain magic (2004): 3,847,893
  19. Mary Roach 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm (2009): 3,810,630
  20. Vijay Kumar demos robots that fly like birds (2012): 3,535,340

I post about education and particularly business education on this blog. A great TED talk is sometimes about business, often about thoughts and leadership, also about creativity, always about presentations and speaking, and always real education. 

Q&A: Are There Business Classes That Busy Smallbiz Owners Can’t Afford Not to Take?

Over this weekend I was in email with a college student who asked me to answer some questions about business education, as part of a class project. I found this one interesting, and one that comes up a lot, so I decided to post the question and my answer here today. 

The question: 

On your blog, you strongly recommend getting an education for the purpose of living your life better. However, I know many people who have sadly passed that opportunity — they are parents and are overtaxed by their own small businesses. Is there a minimum curriculum you recommend to help these people deal with their own businesses — classes that busy owners can’t afford NOT to take?

My answer: 

I like your question and I think that’s a very useful idea. I would recommend basic courses in accounting, finance, and marketing. Most of business is learnable outside of a classroom but understanding cash flow and the principles of marketing is a very real advantage. Debits and credits, the difference between sales, costs, profit, assets, liabilities, and capital, and the difference between cash and profits are essential, in my opinion. Also, the fundamentals of marketing including market segmentation, target marketing, and market focus are every bit as important in the new world of social media as they were 50 years ago in the old world of advertising. Although you can learn those outside of a classroom, it’s the kind of knowledge base you can pick up quicker in a class.

For the record, I practiced what I preach. I did the Stanford MBA while married with 3 kids with no economic help from family, from savings my wife and I had managed from a Journalist’s salary while raising our kids, and working part time. The meager savings lasted just the first quarter of the first year and the rest was financed with my own part-time income and debts. So I know that’s hard to do because I did it, and I don’t want people to think that when I recommend it that I’m being unrealistic about what it takes. And I want to add, also, that when I have recommended it, I’ve always been respectful of the fact that it may be a luxury that not everybody can afford. 

Thanks for asking. 


A Sign of the Entrepreneurial Times. B-School Startups

According to Vital Signs –

The number of students from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business who have chosen to start their own businesses within four months of graduating has grown to 16% among the 385-member class of 2011—more than a fivefold increase since 1990, according to the university.

Only 3% of the 1990 class founded their own businesses shortly after graduating, says the school. …

That doesn’t surprise me. It’s convergence. The big companies are struggling. Big consulting isn’t as glamorous anymore. The Stanford GSB curriculum has embraced entrepreneurship. Big winners — Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Phil Knight — are household names. The Stanford business school hosts a parade of insightful entrepreneurs filling guest spots. Take a look at — for example — the Stanford eCorner or the Stanford Business School channel on YouTube. You’ll see what I mean. 

Not that Stanford is special in this regard. Entrepreneurship has taken over business schools up and down the prestige ladder. Harvard, Wharton, Northwestern, same thing. I point out Stanford because those are the emails I get, and the groups I join. And I’m glad the GSB has changed and adapted since I was there, 30 years ago, and most of us wanted to be management consultants.  

True Story: A Great Presentation Wins Big

Do great presentations launch businesses? Not always, perhaps, but sometimes, yes. And in this case, yes. Or maybe it’s just a great business. 

I was in Austin TX at the event last Saturday when NuMat Technologies, a startup launched at Northwestern, won the University of Texas’ Venture Labs Investment Competition.   I was also at Rice in Houston two weeks earlier when NuMat won the Rice Business Plan Competition

Both of these victories matter. The Venture Labs competition pits winners of other competitions against each other. It was the first of the big MBA-level business plan competitions when it began in 1984, and bills itself as the SuperBowl of these contest. The Rice version has the highest payoff, more than $1.5 million total prizes, and close to $1 million for the winners. Both of them require at least one MBA student, from any accredited institution, for eligibility. Both of them include startups from Asia, Latin America, and Europe. 

I haven’t read the NuMat business plan, but I did see the NuMat pitch, which was sensational. The key was explaining the science just enough to be credible, focusing on the business, and keeping it clear and flowing from point to point. I hope NuMaT  will do an online video of that so you can see it.

In the meantime, I’ve embedded a very short YouTube video that explains the science surprisingly well in just about one minute. Clearly, somebody on this team is a good communicator: 

If you don’t see that here, you can click this link to see it on YouTube. The quick summary is that it seems  poised to change the way gases are stored. Think about those very heavy metal compressed gas tanks like the LNG fuel tanks in LNG-powered vehicle. Think what would happen if the same or more gas could be stored in a new substance that wouldn’t let it leak but wouldn’t require compression. This looks like a real game changer. 

Conclusion? Yes: hey NuMat, post your pitch online!

Hooray for this ‘A Lot of Life Left’ MBA

I got this question today on my ask-me page on my website:old graduate

I am currently in an MBA program at a local college. I have recently completed my third course. I have about five years management experience. I am 58 years-old. My wife is going back to college this summer for the graphic design program at the local college. I figure between my MBA degree and her Graphic Design degree we could start a business in advertising. Am I wasting my time completing this MBA considering my age? This may not mean anything but my parents are in their mid eighties. I still have a lot of life left.

My answer: Go for it. You are an inspiration. I love your last sentence:

I still have a lot of life left.

Take that, Gen Y.

I’ve seen research showing that people between 55 and 65 have hormone changes that encourage learning. I say education is good and the second-best activity humans do is learning about something they’re interested in. When I was your age I seriously considered adding a PhD to my MA and MBA degrees. I didn’t, but that’s another story.

There is, however, a possible catch: if the MBA is a drag, hard to do, and no fun at all, then don’t do it. If it’s a sacrifice, don’t do it. If you expect it to pay off in actual dollars, don’t do it. Few if any advertising clients will decide on you vs. others because you have an MBA degree. And, sad but true, to many potential clients your age is a drawback.

Do it because you want to, or not at all.

I’ve posted a lot on when and why to get an MBA degree, and some on why not, too. Click here for the category.


Helping You Teach Entrepreneurship

That was embarrassing … I was showing some people how easy it would be to modify the order of our online course curriculum, doing some quick links in WordPress, and I accidentally posted it. Sorry.

I could have just deleted that post, but it’s instantly in the RSS feed for this blog, which compounds the error if I delete it.

So, instead of deleting, I’m explaining, and adding information: I was demonstrating how easy it would be to use a WordPress site to start with our online curriculum at (Start, Run, and Grow Your Business) and modify the session order to apply it to different formats like two days, two weeks, 24 sessions, etc.

That’s for and my training session for the Association of Small Business Development Centers, Sept. 6, in San Diego, the day before the annual ASBDC (Association of Small Business Development Centers) conference.

And here’s my workshop plan for that day:

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)

MBAs Reinventing Management Is Like Locusts Reinventing Corn

I clicked over to MBAs Aim to Reinvent Management at when I saw the headline. I expected to read about trends towards revising the standard MBA curriculum to deal better with community, environmental, and social concerns. Instead, it was MBA’s revising management:

As part of a contest, MBA students were asked to suggest game-changing management ideas. The winners might just change the way companies operate.

The problem is:  Fresh MBAs tend to have an overabundance of arrogance. In the Business Week piece, program director Gary Hamel, a visiting professor at the London School of Business, talks about “old” and “musty” management practices.  He says:

Management in most companies is rooted 100 years ago in the Industrial Revolution … Creating this contest was a way to get young people to think about the legacy of management they’re inheriting.

Of course he’s right about management. It does need a shot in the arm, and more leadership, and a lot of change. But focusing MBAs on reinventing management is something like focusing locusts on reinventing agriculture. That’s playing weakness to weakness, not strength to strength.

The consolation is the suggestion that won the contest:

To have teams of employees dedicate an entire day to focusing on turning ideas into proposals.

Notice that it says employees, not straight-out-of-school MBAs. Employees are supposed to team up to focus on proposals. At least.

I love the idea of change in MBA curriculums. I love new trends towards teaching more entrepreneurship, and social and ecological conscience, and even leadership as more art than science. And rewriting traditional management techniques is great. But maybe MBAs, while they’re still in school, need a bit more experience with what management actually is before they start reinventing.

The Nature-Nurture Debate on Entrepreneurship

Is entrepreneurship something people are born with, or do they learn it? Good question, I suppose, but not one I expect anybody will ever be able to really answer. Emily Malby does a good balanced job of reporting about it in Entrepreneurship: A Look at the Nature-Nurture Debate on the Online Wall Street Journal (

WSJ page view

I’ve always found the nature-nurture debates interesting because only a fool is ever really sure anything is one or the other. These are all great examples of arguments in which the only intelligent answer is uncertainty. Who could ever isolate all the factors involved? And what about Malcolm Gladfield’s book Outliers, for example, which suggests that true expertise takes 10,000 hours of hard work. Is the accomplished musician, or the successful artist, the result of talent, training, or both? And what’s the role of luck?

The WSJ quotes a survey taken with 500 entrepreneurs in the UK. It says:

Only 13% believe that skills they gained through education and experience were the main drivers in starting a business.

Hmmm … but what does that mean, “the main drivers?” and what does “skills gained through education and experience” mean? The report goes on to suggest a contradiction, and maybe a problem with definitions:

Almost 90% of entrepreneurs who took the survey had worked for another company before launching their own companies, and 30% had studied business and management.

So that’s kind of mysterious. I think it goes back to how hard it is to get data like this. We don’t get the facts — as if there are any — but what people say about themselves. And nobody asked unsuccessful entrepreneurs what they thought … what if lack of education and experience increases the likelihood of failure?

The WSJ story, I should add, goes on to give a well balanced summary of this debate, quoting experts and research on several sides of it.

And either way, the nature-nurture debate has nothing useful to say about whether we can teach entrepreneurship, or learn entrepreneurship. Whether it’s learned or innate, there is still the matter of training, and skill, and experience. Don’t tell me born entrepreneurs don’t gain from learning the normal process, and skills like cash flow and marketing. Don’t tell me that the luxury of learning, if it’s available, doesn’t help.

For every Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg there are hundreds of millions of the rest of us.

Is Networking Friendship, or Just MBA Speak?

What do you think about this?

The networking connections are one of the most valuable benefits of an MBA. Five to ten years down the road these people will either be running their own businesses or have high-level positions in large companies.

That’s a comment to my post here and on Small Business Trends. I said the value of my MBA degree was what I learned, not what I earned.

That networking idea, especially connected to business school, has been around for a long time. It was already there in B-school lore, thoroughly entrenched, ironically, even before there was actual networking – the web, social media, Internet, email, etc. I did my MBA from 1979 to 1981, and we heard it a lot even way back then. And they meant it then exactly as it’s used here.

But I don’t like it. To me, the term networking smacks of people as career stepping stones, and relationships as business assets. And insincere grins and car salesmen wearing white buck shoes and green checked sports coats. And pinkie rings. And people who barely know each other asking for favors. It makes me feel like after I’m done networking I should take a shower.

Friendship, on the other hand, I like. Friendship is about people, and life, and it’s always good. Also community, and discussion and keeping in touch.  I’m fine with that.  I like the idea of people who do higher education together becoming friends for life. That’s cool. I haven’t been the best at keeping up, but I’ve always liked the idea. I’m still in email with some people I met at Stanford and even with friends from Notre Dame, my undergrad school, where we were the class of 1970. But that’s not networking, it’s life.

And social media, by the way; I like that too. I’ve had lots of twitter relationships end up as face to face or phone, and these are friendships, not networking. These are people I like. Communicating (well, publishing) about things they like. If that’s networking too, then it’s not so bad.

You tell me, please: am I making something out of nothing? Is networking just another word for friendship? Does the new world of social media turn networking into something different than its meaning in the MBA context?

(Image: James Steidl/Shutterstock)