Why Entrepreneurs Don’t Like School

For more on this topic, check out my previous essay on learning.

I hated school. I loved going to school to socialize and play basketball with friends, but the majority of the time, classes felt pointless. This had nothing to do with my teachers or the way they taught, but rather my learning style is just incompatible with the traditional schooling format.

There were, however, a couple of classes that were slightly less painful. Physics was one of the few. It fascinated me how it made sense of our world and the universe. Language literature was another one because we looked at how pictures and words are interpreted and how they can affect how we feel. I actually use a lot of what I learned in that class to this day in marketing and business.

My single favorite lesson was during a world studies class when Ms. Savoie taught us how to think outside the box. She showed us a picture of an ordinary wallet and had us list all the pros and cons of that wallet.

Well, traditional wallets allowed us to store our paper money, credit cards, IDs, and receipts in our pockets. The not-so-great features we listed were its bulkiness, they can’t really carry coins, and they often get lost or stolen. After that, she told us to imagine what the perfect wallet would look like if there were no limitations to what is possible (what a great activity).

As a class, we enthusiastically came up with some pretty creative ideas and designs, imagining the use of different materials and ways of attaching a physical wallet to our clothing. Funny enough, just a few years later, Defi and crypto became mainstream. And not a single person in my class, including me, had the audacity to imagine a digital wallet that we wouldn’t even have to physically carry at all. That class will always be memorable because it created a heuristic in my thinking that I use often today. It taught me how quickly the world changes and how most people unconsciously place limitations on ideas. It’s also a testament to how important yet neglected creativity is for the contribution of growth and innovation in society.

That particular lesson was one of the few that was intended to train our subjective creativity with no guardrails whereas your typical in-school activity follows a precise structure. Typically, your teacher gives you instructions and a rubric that you must follow. And your grade reflects your ability to follow those rules. Ask any successful entrepreneur what’s the key to building a great business and they will tell you that you need to start something new. It must be something 10x better than the current alternative. It’s impossible to do that by thinking and doing exactly what others are doing and what others are telling you to do—which is paradoxically how school works and how to be successful in school.

I never internally cared about what grade I got in school. I loved to learn, but that was sedated by the confines of the school format of education. To survive the long grueling hours, I would spend a lot of time in french class surfing random Wikipedia articles and drawing up app designs I had.

During other classes I would daydream about the world and things I could do to improve it. I used to search for things I couldn’t afford and calculate an imaginary budget for them. I looked at yachts for sale online and scrupulously calculated down to the penny what the yearly overhead would be if I traveled x times per year and chartered it to cover some of the costs. School was a place where I was often bored, which made it the perfect setting to foster my creativity.

Because of my disinterest in school, I was never a good student which led me to believe I wasn’t intelligent or capable of much. As I grew older, I discovered that there is so much more to intellect than a standardized test. In fact, there are many different types of “smart”. As most entrepreneurs can relate, I simply had a different learning style and was driven by other means.

I’ve always been a curious person and enjoyed learning. I get interested in many different things and want to understand how they all work. I’m always absorbing information and putting pieces together to feed my boundless curiosity. And that doesn’t make me special. There are many people like me, entrepreneur or not, who love to learn, but just learn better in different ways. While some learn better with structure, accountability, and textbooks, entrepreneurs are generally more hands-on and learn-as-they-go.

Another incompatibility between entrepreneurs and school stems from our nature of wanting to build things meaningful. In grade school, I could never shake off the feeling that I was wasting my time doing assignments just for a teacher to grade them. My hard work had no relevance outside of being graded and had no value to anyone; It always ended up forgotten and discarded. It just felt pointless. Working, on the other hand, felt like purposeful work. It didn’t matter if I was a dishwasher or a janitor, those efforts were actually contributing to something and providing value to people.

I felt like an outsider for feeling so disinterested in school. While my peers got impassioned by receiving grades back after a test, I could not care less. But I later learned that actually a lot of entrepreneurs share the same or similar experiences and opinions on school—regardless of the education level they completed.

There are a few common reasons why entrepreneurs often don’t like school:

Firstly, you don’t succeed as an entrepreneur by doing the same thing everyone else is doing. You need to think outside the box and be able to learn things on the fly without instruction. School is a place of standardized tests and learning the exact same things at the same pace, despite each student having different strengths and weaknesses.

American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences which states that there are nine different and independent domains of intelligence: Musical, spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. He explains that people who fail in some of them may excel in others. He also points out how schools only emphasize two of the nine types of intelligence, linguistic and logical abilities, while neglecting other forms of intelligence.

Secondly, entrepreneurs don’t really enjoy hypothetical information. Most curriculums make students think about real-world scenarios instead of actually doing them. Entrepreneurs value experiences over speculation. We want to get out there and learn through action. Some young entrepreneurs also understand that a degree or certificate is only good for getting hired. We aren’t even looking to be hired; we’re looking to hire.

Perhaps this is why entrepreneurship is seen as a risky endeavor. They naturally prefer to do, and sometimes must take leaps of faith with little certainty of the outcome. Although attending university doesn’t guarantee future success, it is seen as a much more secure pathway to a good life. So by default, if you want to be successful, you’re told to attend university.

Investor Naval Ravikant has previously said that if you’re good with computers, basic math, writing, speaking, and reading, then you’re “set for life”. Naval believes that there is no actual skill called business—it’s too broad. He said business schools teach “anecdotes” which they call case studies. Schools try to help you pattern-match by throwing lots of data points but he says “the reality is that you will never understand them fully until you’re actually in that position yourself.” You learn all the subtleties and go through many iterations which speed up the learning curve, which is why Naval believes learning by doing will always be the most effective approach.

Lastly, entrepreneurs are constantly reminded that success isn’t always measured by the amount of money their business generates. The same concept can be applied to grades. Too many students fixate on earning an A rather than storing the information long-term, networking with their peers, or building experiences that can be added to their resumes. Entrepreneurs who don’t thrive in school are often focused on achieving success in other ways.

Also, most people would rather try and associate themselves with high-value things than build value on their own. It’s much easier to do. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but the majority of people who choose the traditional higher education path value the resulting credentials more than anything else the institution has to offer. That is why people pay tens of thousands of dollars for college, even when the same knowledge could be acquired for much cheaper or even for free.

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing a traditional education, and I hope I didn’t come off as an anti-school hater. I believe completing secondary education is essential, and universities provide immense value to society. However, in today’s world where access to alternative education and learning opportunities are abundant, no one should feel confined to just one way of learning.

For some professions, the best or the only way to learn and get hired in that field is through school. But for business students and entrepreneurs especially, ask yourself what you really want out of education. Business is a skill that is better taught in the real world than in any school or textbook. If you love reading and talking to people, and are genuinely interested in learning about all things business, you’re better off as an autodidact.

If you’re an entrepreneur who feels alienated because of your lack of interest in school, I wrote this for you. I wish I had someone tell me earlier.

I could provide hours of footage and pages of quotes from successful entrepreneurs sharing their similar indifferences towards school. Below are a few of my favorites.

If you liked this essay, this memoir by Paul Graham delves into this topic in more detail and explains how school is affecting entrepreneurs and society as a whole.

A Harvard Researcher found rolling a pair of dice was as predictive of your future income as your college GPA is; the average college GPA of an American millionaire is 2.9 out of 4.0.

Ray Dalio, American billionaire investor, and hedge fund manager. Known as one of America’s smartest economists.
Warren Buffet answers the question, “Is business school worth it?”
Iared Isaacman, $2.4 billion, founder of Shift4. “[Shift4] handles more than $200billion in payments every year for a third of the country’s restaurants and hotels, including giants like Hilton, Four Seasons, KFC and Arby’s, which rely on it to complete complex payments across dozens of properties and locations,”
Manny Khoshbin

“As much as possible, avoid hiring MBAs. MBA programs don’t teach people how to create companies … our position is that we hire someone in spite of an MBA, not because of one.” -Elon Musk