Jason Fried

February 27, 2024

Do learn

Imagine teaching guitar without putting an instrument in someone’s hands.

Or teaching ceramics without having people work with clay.

Or teaching tennis without swinging the racket and hitting balls.

I’m sure there’s some way to teach those things without doing those things, but come on, we all know you have to do those things to really learn those things.

I believe business is in the same category. It’s much closer to learning an art, sport, or instrument than it is to learning history, political science, or another subject primarily taught through written texts, lectures, or observing without doing.

Yet how many entrepreneurship programs out there require their students to start a real business? They may exist, but I’ve been around and haven’t seen one yet. It can be the simplest damn business — buying and selling on eBay, for example — but it’s got to be a business with costs, products or services, and sales to customers. And it should start on day one, class one, and go at least as long as the course allows. The businesses that are started, and the struggles and successes that ensue, should be the subject matter, period.

Instead, there’s a lot of talk. There’s a lot of abstraction. There’s a lot of strategizing. There’s a lot of business plan writing. There’s a lot of game play. There’s a lot of theorizing. And there are plenty of case studies.

But there’s very little guitar being played, clay being formed, and balls being hit.

Imagine learning guitar by planning how you’re going to play. Or learning how to throw a pot on a wheel by presenting a Powerpoint on it. Or learning how to keep the ball in the lines by studying how the lines were painted.

We’d roll our eyes. And rightfully so.

Yet this is how entrepreneurship is taught.

Heads should roll. And rightfully so.

Give me two people — Person A has spent two years in business school studying how to start a business that doesn’t yet exist. Person B has never set foot in business school, but has been running their own business for two years.

Who’s learned more about entrepreneurship along the way? Who has the advantage in year three?

I know who I’m picking. You?

To learn business, do business.


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.