Is an MBA harmful to entrepreneurship?

I spent Friday hanging out with a bunch of MBA students. I run across a lot of different types of entrepreneurially minded people with varying levels of experience. It wasn’t just Friday that I had noticed that people with an MBA or pursing the degree tended to think differently than I do. For context, I’ve been a business owner for just over 15 years. Prior to that I completed technical, not business, bachelors and masters degrees from Purdue.

It got me thinking about my new academic crush, Saras Sarasvathy, and colleagues who did a study that compared decision making between expert entrepreneurs and MBA students. Effectual versus predictive logics in entrepreneurial decision-making: Differences between experts and novices.

Their study results showed that problems were framed differently by MBA students as compared to expert entrepreneurs. They can look at the same data and view it in different ways leading to different results. Entrepreneurs will ignore some data or bring in additional information. Entrepreneurs tend to prioritize only dealing with information that is within their ability to control. Goals and visions for the ventures more frequently changed to adapt to new information. MBA students had a more singular plan for their ventures.

Experts have an ability to learn from feedback and do a post hoc analysis. This feedback loop combined with their ability to weight information in more subtle and complex ways allows them to continue to gain expertise at an ever increasing rate.

Experts also are able to leverage partnerships more effectively, often before the end result is determined, and thus the exact reason for the partnership. They tend to do things themselves early on as opposed to hiring someone else to do them which gives them the experiences upon which they base their future decisions.

Does the mental framework taught by the MBA programs impact the student to think in this way? Or does someone who already thinks in this way seek out an MBA program?

How does an entrepreneur go about getting experience? How do they craft their own mental framework as an inexperienced entrepreneur?

Could an MBA program actually be harmful to someone seeking to be more entrepreneurial?

I find myself at a point where I see little desire to pursue more formal and accredited forms of education. I find myself currently learning at a faster rate in multiple areas of study than I ever have before. I’m learning from a combination of my own experiences, the experiences of others, and from lots of reading.

But I also find myself being asked more frequently how I learned to do what I do. I find it a difficult question to answer. At the stage I was at of the person asking the question, I never would have guessed I would be where I’m at. I also feel like I have so much still to learn I’m hesitant to give anyone advice on what is actually needed to acquire, own, and help operate multiple small businesses.

My answer right now is to just start in some way in a small business. Start contracting (the smallest of businesses). Start working in a small business. You’ll soon realize what gaps you have to fill. Maybe you have a gap caused by getting an MBA. You’ll have to ask a successful entrepreneur with an MBA how they got over that hurdle.

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