Thursday, October 12, 2006

Learning the business of business

My son is part of a team that has a presentation due today in their high school business class. They had to write and film a commercial for the product they were assigned. They had to develop a strategy for marketing and distributing their product. They had to decide on pricing and who their target market would be. They will present in front of the entire class, in business attire. For my son, that means a blue, pin-striped suit. My contribution was to help my son select a tie, and to grace it with one of my perfect Windsor knots.

The product my son's team was assigned? Coloured and scented toilet paper.

Although my son is in grade nine, most of the classmates in this particular course are grade ten students. These kids know much more about business theory than I did in my twenties. I knew virtually nothing when I started my early businesses. I learned by trial and error.

I wonder how many of these kids will actually become entrepreneurs when they finish school. Knowing the terminology of business certainly can't hurt, but I wonder sometimes if business courses don't teach kids that things can only be done a certain way, and thereby help create a bunch of managers and executives, but relatively few entrepreneurs. How many MBAs do you know who started their own businesses from scratch? Most MBAs I have encountered over the years have been managers or executives in companies where, at best, they are minority shareholders.

Becoming an entrepreneur means wanting independence more than anything else. It usually means working much harder for yourself than you would ever do for someone else, expending more hours, making more sacrifices, taking bigger risks. Of course, sometimes it pays off handsomely. Sometimes it doesn't. Either way, it is not usually the money or the status that attracts entrepreneurs to develop businesses. It is the independence. Most entrepreneurs I know are very happy to be out of the limelight.

It seems that my son is very interested in business and that he will continue taking related courses throughout his high school years. He will learn lots of interesting things and then be able to point out to me all of the things I have done wrong since I started my first business at age 17.

Great. Just what I need, another critic.


  1. LOL!

    Good post!

    Colored and Scented Toilet paper eh? Wouldn't be a favorite with women - lots of problems with dye and perfume.. but, I would love to see the commercial! Will he youtube it? ;)

  2. The only thing worse than being assigned scented and colored toilet paper would be feminine hygiene products. Although not a lot worse. It's pretty hard to get all excited about t.p. Unless you're in France, where they still use paper you can practically write a letter on.

    I love Windsor knots. I wore my father's tie all the time in college, black with my white shirts and Levis, and my hair all wild...I never knew the name of the way I learned to tie it was Windsor.

    I don't think your son will be a critic of you. I think he'll say, "Does my old man know what he's been talking about, or what?" Everything looks easy, when you're good at it, until a novice appears and discovers just how talented a pro is.

    p.s. Tell me about The Moon is A Harsh Mistress, if you want. I saw it won a Hugo Award in 1967 and am unfamiliar with it.

  3. The presentation was delayed until next week for some reason, so I don't know yet how it will be perceived. I'll ask my son about the youtube thing.

    I can still remember my dad teaching me the Windsor knot. We didn't know that is what it was called either. I just liked the symmetry of the knot and every time I tie it, I think of my dad.

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is very popular in Libertarian circles. It tells the story of Manny, a computer technician, who works on the central computer system of the 'Auhtority,' the administrators of a penal colony on the moon. Manny teaches the computer,'Mike' about typically human things like humour, context, etc., and as time passes, Mike becomes truly sentient. Manny, Mike, a delicious gal named Wyoming Knot and a bunch of ragamuffins and misfits rebel against the oppressive Authority and... I think that's about all I can tell you without giving away too much.

    This is more than a science fiction novel, it is a libertarian anthem of sorts. It covers a lot of Robert A. Heinlein's thoughts on liberty and responsibility and appears to be where the term TANSTAAFL originated.

    I loved Heinlein and when he passed on it was almost as if a close relative had died. His work could be simultaneously profound and silly. He had a great sense of humour, but didn't suffer fools or meddlers gladly.

  4. atavist, I love when you write about books. Your comments are quite valuable to those who love literature (and philosophy!) I'm checking this out, since I saw it in your profile, again on the Hugo Award list, and your comment above. It sounds fascinating, with a "delicious gal", a society on the moon, AND rebellion. One of my favorite topics.

  5. I'll look forward to your impressions of the book, if you get a chance to read it.

  6. I'll get a chance. Then I'll do a post, and welcome your comments. I bet we have a rockin' conversation with les and bookfool, just to name a few.

  7. Sieg, your concerns for the legitimacy of hour youngling's education are not at all unfounded.
    What most "public" education teaches about business is laced with carcinogenic levels of socialistic altruism, and geared toward making the student into a well-assimilated cubicle drone of the corporate collective. There are some rare points that actually fit the real world, but monitoring the process closely and asking him what he is being taught - even going so far as to skim the texts - might be quite revealing.
    You may discover that he's being taught "monkey-business" instead of what's truly helpful toward independence and entrepreneurship.

  8. You are quite right, Galt, I try to anticipate what he will be taught and give him context and contrast so he can better sort it out.

  9. The presentation went well, apparently, although the way the commercial was described to me, it sounded pretty hokey. The kids don't appear to want to put the commerical on Youtube. Maybe that's why!