You Don’t Know Lefsetz?: An argument for investing time in entrepenurial learning

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Contributing Writer Over ten years ago, an entrepreneur named Paul Graham started publishing a series of philosophical essays with titles like “You Weren’t Meant to have a Boss,” “A Student’s Guide to Startups,” “How to Make Wealth” and more. They went on to inspire a generation of geeky teenagers who would go on to start billion dollar companies like Dropbox, Twitch and Airbnb. In 2012, PayPal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel taught a class at Stanford on entrepreneurship. The notes from these lectures eventually transpired into the seminal business book, Zero to One: How To Build the Future. In 2013, another entrepreneur, Balaji S. Srvasen, founder of Genomics company Counsyl, sought to build a sequel to Thiel’s class. It’s goal was to “bridge the gap between academic computer science and production software engineering,” he named the class Startup Engineering. It was described as a “fast-paced introduction to key tools and technique featuring guest appearances by senior engineers from successful startups and large-scale academic projects.” This same year, renowned author and serial-entrepreneur, Seth Godin, created his own three-day live Startup School for a small group of entrepreneurs. It was a great source of material for an aspirational entrepreneur to better understand marketing. In 2014, CEO of Startup-Incubator- Mammoth YCombinator, Sam Altman, taught another class called How to Start a Startup. This one was a series of lectures in front of Stanford studentsfeaturing a long lineup of A-list Silicon Valley entrepreneurs including the founders of companies such as LinkedIn, PayPal, Facebook, Box and Airbnb. This year, in 2017, Y Combinator did it again with an entire Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) called Startup School, this time including office hours and homework assignments. This class was created specifically with founders and senior executives of growing startups in mind. There is a reason why an ambitious college student should be conscious of each of these listed resources. More important than the fact that the college demographic has been a growing source of entrepreneurism in America since the internet era, all of these aforementioned resources have been recorded, posted online, and they are available for free. Anybody with an internet connection can have access to world-class entrepreneurial advice, if only they knew where to look. So why is it that there are students who can take entrepreneurship classes at their schools without ever once hearing of any of the names listed above? This is certainly the case at Union. Just as an aspiring professional musician should know about Bob Lefsetz or a podcaster should know about Krista Tippett, or a designer about Donald Norman or an education reformer about Ken Robinson, it seems essential that for one to actualize their potential, they must know who the must-reads are in their discipline. In a blog post called “You Don’t Know Lefsetz?”, Seth Godin writes that there are too many people who “take pride in doing their profession from a place of naïveté, unaware or unlearned in the most important voices in their field. It is essential for a professional to understand both the pioneers and the state of the art. An economist doesn’t have to agree with Keynes, but she better know who he is.” Thanks to the internet, information that was once distant and unattainable has become local and free. It is more important than ever that institutions take on the responsibility to curate the ever-expanding ocean of resources. They would be doing a grave disservice to their students otherwise. And of course, this criticism applies to much more than entrepreneurship classes. There are of course other departments who suffer from this same problem. In fact, this may very well be a problem in every department. For schools to maintain our trust, they must bewilling to sift through and curate a digital selection of the best open educational resources.Every department must be pushed to discover who the best teachers in the world are. College tuition has risen 200% over 20 years, there should be absolutely zero tolerance for mediocrity.

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