Business school vs the school of hard knocks

The View from Taft
Patrick Adriel H. Aure

Posted on August 03, 2017

A few weeks ago, a very good friend and former Lasallian classmate of mine invited me to be one of the three panelists for his students’ capstone project. He handled a creative entrepreneurship class for fashion designers under the Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship located in Shangri-La Plaza. For his students’ final defense, the task was for each to defend their fashion-oriented business ideas while we, the panelists, provided feedback for improvement.

Having friends who are artists, I am always fascinated with how art and business can be reconciled without sacrificing what art-makers want to express. As such, I admired the creativity of the students in designing their fashion-related products and applying management tools such as business model canvases and value proposition maps. They had high hopes for their fashion businesses, but obviously they needed to ground their ideas and make them as feasible as possible.

After the panel had given its comments on the capstone projects, one student asked me a seemingly innocent yet profound question: “What are fashion entrepreneurs like me missing when we do not take an MBA?”

The question made me reflect deeply.

Fresh from finishing my Lasallian MBA while still being attuned to the needs of my artistic-but-entrepreneurial friends, I found myself at a unique vantage point. This was the classic tug-of-war between the gritty school of hard-knocks and the graduate school of business scholarship. Here I am, a product of a business graduate school having a dialog with an entrepreneur molded along the lines of gritty non-graduates yet uber-successful Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.

After much contemplation, I answered her.

“Indeed, the best way to learn about business is via experience, which is what you are already doing excellently. On the other hand, MBAs and other advanced business degrees equip students with the ability to organize and test learning through frameworks, make sense of gut feel and intuition, and unlock better opportunities in the corporate or academic sector through prestigious networks and meeting high-level qualifications.”

At that point, while I answered her, I felt proud and thankful of my decision to take an advanced business degree. However, side-by-side with the gratitude I felt was a deepening of respect and admiration for entrepreneurs who get their battle scars in the gritty school of hard knocks. I continued,

“However, for your case, you do not necessarily need an advanced degree. What you are searching for are opportunities to rapidly test and refine your ideas and business models, such as start-up pitches and entrepreneurial boot camps. Although the absence of any business-oriented degree makes it harder for you to be an employee, that curse is actually your personal blessing -- it forces you to focus on your current path! Let that fuel your motivation because you are destined to be an entrepreneur!”

This dialog made me truly appreciate that learning business is both a science and an art; it is not limited to degrees or actual experiences, and there is no one best way to learn about it. As such, practitioners and scholars should take charge of how they prefer to learn about business and management based on their inclination -- to experiment through experience or experiment through producing valid theories, frameworks, and theories.

However, in the pursuit of learning business, what is most important is for hard-knock entrepreneurs and management scholars to put themselves out there for the world to critique and admire. Let entrepreneurs launch new products and services and scholars launch new ideas and theories; let customers provide valuable feedback and practitioners provide reality-checks. In today’s world of hyperconnectivity, the way forward is to open ourselves to criticism in search of better ways to do business.

In the end, as practitioners and scholars blur the line of learning, there await new possibilities, innovations, and discoveries that may impact the world for the better.

Patrick Adriel H. Aure is a faculty member of the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University (DLSU), and is a junior research fellow of the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development. Having recently earned his MBA from DLSU, he is excited about exploring cases featuring social enterprises, sustainability, innovation, and new business models.