Wednesday, December 30, 2015

St. Entrepreneur

Back in my childhood a boy, asked what he wanted to become when he grew up, would, as likely as not, say: “A locomotive driver.” The railway, alas, was still quite close to being the dominant, if fading, technology of the mid-1930s. The modern answer (according to this article) is strongly related to the overbearing presence of television: a large number of boys will answer “A football player” or choose some sports-related occupation; most girls will say “An actress” or “A singer” or select some activity in the field of entertainment.

I haven’t found the word “Entrepreneur” on any of these lists—and that because such an activity, when you look at it closely, has to be classified as a second, third, or forth tier layer beneath something else that has more meaning. One needs to have an idea of some kind—for a thing to make or a service to deliver—and in either case, that thing or service has to have a meaning for the person: baking fancy things, say, or caring for troubled people. The next layer is learning to do that thing, whatever it is. How to make money from it comes quite late in the development of what it is—and becoming an entrepreneur is just one of multiple choices in realizing the original idea.

Therefore it amused us much to learn yesterday that Rice University in Texas is gearing up to offer a major program in Entrepreneurship aimed at its enrollees—or to attract such (New York Times, 12/29/15). Now what part of entrepreneurship is teachable? Fundraising would seem to be one of those things—but what if the quite magical powers, such as Steve Jobs possessed, say, are not present? Is fundraising merely a learnable technique? Furthermore, as for technique, fundraising appears to be just one form of persuasion among others, and no doubt Rice already offers degrees in Marketing as part of its business curriculum….

To make this initiative sharply visible for what it is—chasing the latest fad—one can imagine the Vatican setting up a special University of Sainthood, implying that graduates will be almost certain to be canonized—as Rice’s program implies the high likelihood of becoming a billionaire at 21 upon graduation. Sainthood can be taught? To be sure. Let’s start with mortification. Hairshirt 101.

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