Why Entrepreneurs Don’t Like School

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

I hated school. I loved going to school, messing around with friends, and going to basketball practice, but I struggled to muster any interest in class. I vividly remember a handful of classes sparking my curiosity. For example, physics always fascinated me how it makes sense of everything in the universe.

One day in World Studies class, Ms. Savoie gave us an activity to encourage us to think outside the box. She showed us a picture of an ordinary wallet, then had us list all the benefits of that wallet.

Well, the wallet allowed us to store our paper money, credit cards, ID, and receipts. On the downside, wallets are bulky, can’t really carry coins, and often get lost/stolen. Next, she told us to imagine what the perfect wallet would look like if there were no limitations by science or reality. We came up with some extremely creative ideas, yet no one in the class thought of a digital wallet which we wouldn’t have to physically carry at all. Funny thing is, digital wallets are the norm today.

I will never forget that particular lesson because it taught me the subconscious limitations I put on my ideas and solutions to problems. It was also one of the few lessons that was focused on creativity instead of a grade. I had a similar experience in my language literature class which taught me fundamental things about marketing that I still use today.

In school, I never cared about what grade I got. I always loved to learn but hated the school format. I remember spending hours and hours in french class surfing Wikipedia articles and drawing up app designs for ideas I had. I spent a lot of time in class daydreaming about the world and things I could do. I searched for yachts for sale online and calculated what the yearly costs would be if I traveled x times per year and chartered it. School was a place where I was often bored, which allowed my creativity to run wild.

Because of my disinterest in school, I was never a good student which leading me to believe I wasn’t smart or capable of much. As I grew older, I learned that this wasn’t true. As many entrepreneurs can relate, I simply had a different learning style. Contrary to academic standards, I’m a very curious person. I get interested in many things and want to understand how they all work. I’m an avid learner who’s always absorbing information and putting pieces together to better myself and to feed my boundless curiosity. While some learn better with structure, accountability, and textbooks, entrepreneurs are generally more hands-on and learn-as-they-go.

In school, I could never shake off this feeling that I was spending hours writing these essays, studying, or completing assignments just for a teacher to grade it—then it has no relevance and goes to the trash. It just felt so pointless. Working, on the other hand, felt like purposeful work. My efforts were actually contributing to something and producing results.

I used to feel like an outsider for being disinterested in school, but I’ve noticed that the majority of entrepreneurs have shared the same experience in school—regardless of the education level they completed.

There are a few reasons why entrepreneurs usually 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.

Secondly, we 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 looking to be hired, we’re looking to hire.

We’re risk-takers, so we’re always considering probabilities. Going to school doesn’t guarantee future success, so some entrepreneurs might choose to learn in unconventional ways such as through books, podcasts, online courses. These are more accessible than ever, and a thousand times cheaper.

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—its too broad. He said business schools teach “anecdotes” which they call case studies. The 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 always 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 building value on their own. It’s much easier to do. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but majority who chose the traditional higher education path value the resulting credentials more than anything else the institution has to offer. That is why they 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, however, in today’s world where access to alternative education and learning opportunities are abundant, no one should feel confined to one way of learning.

I could provide hours of footage and pages of quotes from successful entrepreneurs sharing their comparable feelings about school. Below are a few of them explaining this in their own words.

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

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,”
Ray Dalio, American billionaire investor, and hedge fund manager. Known as one of America’s smartest economists.
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