Eric Ries’s Lean Startup methodology is great for building companies, but not so good at producing well-rounded human beings.
There is something troubling about the diktats being issued from trendy Silicon Valley gurus at the moment: something defiantly anti-intellectual that threatens to leave entrepreneurs, and, ultimately, humanity, poorer.
This week, Lean Startup author Eric Ries was in London to promote his new book. You would have been forgiven for thinking it was the second coming of the Messiah, so lavishly was his arrival fêted.
But when he started delivering his tour boilerplate at various meet-ups around the capital, we noticed something odd.
“Modern entrepreneurs should ask: What am I trying to learn, and what’s the minimum work I have to do to learn it?” Ries said at a Business Leaders’ Network event on Monday.
That might sound like perfectly sensible advice for time-poor start-up chief executives, but when you examine it alongside some of his other remarks, particularly in the context of his new book and a curious sort of snobbery about education in the entrepreneurial establishment, you start to realise how dry and depressing Silicon Valley’s view of the educational world is.
There’s no suggestion that Ries is anti-education. But off-the-cuff remarks like this one betray a strand of Valley thinking that seems to be getting more prominent.
Would Ries, for example, support Peter Thiel’s monstrous scholarship programme, which encourages students to drop out of university?
We believe that it would be to the severe detriment of entrepreneurs, and to the ultimate consumers of their products, to deny them the opportunity of a university education.
While it is clear that far fewer numbers of young people should be at university than currently are in America and Europe, it does not follow that entrepreneurs should not attend.
Indeed, while some of Peter Thiel’s criticisms of the American educational establishment have merit, given the entrepreneurial failure rate it is difficult to see who benefits, besides avaricious venture capitalists, when a young person’s career prospects are hobbled by their failure to gain a university degree.
Vivek Wadhwa, the writer and academic, has written forcefully on this subject. We can add little to his argument, save to express concern about the maintenance of an apartheid between investor and entrepreneur classes that can only be remedied with education – or the sort of massive win that occurs a few times a decade.
This is not, for some fairly obvious reasons, of paramount significance to the investor elites in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, but it should be to our readers, many of whom will have businesses which, for whatever reason, fail to fulfil their potential.
For all the truth there is in grade deflation at university level and the lack of graduate jobs in the marketplace, a university degree remains the best guarantee there is of success and of higher earnings later in life.