This is part two of a three part series where I discuss the reasoning why I chose to start a business rather than pursue graduate school. You can read part one here.
In 2008 a colleague recommended a book to me: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. A self-improvement book? Pssht…I was a mature college grad. Self-improvement books were for people who didn’t know anything. I liked “hard” learning, like math and stuff. But I was struggling at the time with marketing strategy as a part of my job, and since I loved to learn new things I thought I would give it a try.
It was a game changer. I couldn’t stop reading after Made to Stick. I read through dozens of other recommended books that I found online. Each gave me new perspectives and inspired me. I then started reading publications like Fast Company and the Harvard Business Review. All the while I was working a job where I could test out my new methods and ideas regularly.
We live in a world of information unimaginable to the people who originally created college-style education. Once I decided to dive into this space, the canon of classical and modern business theory, I could read high-quality material for days on end–all for free! (If you haven’t been to a library recently, please go now.) There is no monopoly of information held by graduate schools. Last summer I sat in on an MBA class at a top 20 school and the material was the same stuff that I had been reading. I knew all the answers! I just got there in a more cost-effective way.
The “free or cheap” learning paradigm is only getting stronger. The Khan Academy hosts free online video lessons in topics that can get quite advanced. MIT and other universities have put much of their course work online for free. iTunesU hosts free lecture podcasts.
I know that I can get access to great content just by searching online. But further than that, I think that it’s important to be learning and then testing what you learn concurrently. Which makes the obvious thing to do while learning about business is to…start a business! By reinforcing what I learn with instant feedback from my ventures, and allowing my experiences to give me perspective on what I am learning, I create a beautiful feedback loop.
In the startup world these values are embodied by the philosophies of “Lean Startup” and “Fast-prototypeing”. The idea is to not get overly hung up on theory and discussion. Have an idea? Let’s test it! If you’re right, great. If you’re wrong, let’s find out why. In this way, learning and doing go hand in hand. Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book Outliers posits the 10,000 hour theory: that 10,000 hours of practice at anything will make you a “genius”. So if you want to get good in a certain field, the best thing to do is dive headfirst into that field and work work work and learn learn learn. Computer science students have known this for years. If you’re thinking about a CS major, know that the student next to you has already torn apart seven computers, build an Android app and hacked her neighbor’s wifi–all before she ever opened a book.
Skipping graduate school no longer means missing out on higher learning. It is easier than ever to pursue continuous learning for negligible cost. Whether you are thinking about humanities or culinary school, science or business school, there is a trove of free or cheap lessons and scholarship. And even if you are thinking about a degree like law, which is required for the field, you can do yourself a favor and pour over the bounty of public legal scholarship to give yourself a head start on the brutal first year, and make sure you are making the best career decision.
Does self-study take more initiative and self-management? Of course. But shouldn’t I be learning that, too? When I look at graduate school, I see an institution of learning that isn’t able to offer a dramatically better education than that new kid on the block, the internet. And the internet is free. (And the library, too.)
In part three, I will talk about my third reason: The philosophical difference between passive and creation.
Marc Brodeur just wants everyone to be awesome. His first company, Brode, the first professional drinking companion, makes a special vitamin that helps promote proper hydration and detox when drinking alcohol. Follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.