Is Engineering (or Business) Education Anti-Entrepreneurial?

business_ethics_highlights_2This piece on France’s confusion (and often conflation) of engineering with entrepreneurship is fascinating on its own terms, but it also offers indirectly a criticism of business education that can be cast illuminatingly in terms of virtue ethics. Like France’s engineering programs, business schools both prize and produce docility and submission to existing order. From its highly-structured curriculum to its system of rewards (both of which the university-based business school’s Progressive Era founders modeled on engineering education, as revealed in Rakesh Khurana’s From Higher Aims to Hired Hands), the business school gives its students multiple cues (both subtle and overt) that the winners are those who possess the discipline to color always inside the lines. That creates pleasant students and a congenial classroom atmosphere, but (at least) at the margin, it quells the zeal and adaptability that are the source of entrepreneurial innovation.

Differently put, business schools inculcate and reinforce bureaucratic habits and dispositions – that is, bureaucratic virtues – but thereby discourage the formation of entrepreneurial habits and dispositions—that is, entrepreneurial virtues. If we think entrepreneurial initiative is key to lifting the world’s poorest out of poverty and to the innovation that improves all human life, the character formation occurring in the business school is cause for concern—not for the alleged psychopathy it encourages in a few (e.g., Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling), but for the risk-aversion it encourages in the many. >>>

LINK: French Engineers and Entrepreneurship: It’s Complicated (by Nicolas Colin for TheFamily)

The idea of teaching entrepreneurship is counter-intuitive because it equals teaching rebellion, bad behavior, and taking bold risks—everything that disrupts the order that is supposed to reign at school. But it is worth a try anyway, if only to help many people understand how different hacking is from engineering à la française. Great Entrepreneurs such as Larry Page or Elon Musk are engineers with a passion for technology. But many, many others are mostly hackers obsessed with solving a problem—so much so that they’re ready to work day and night, to grab any resource, to learn any skill, so that they ultimately create an exceptional experience for their customers.

What do you think?

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