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Teaching Entrepreneurship

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Can you teach entrepreneurship? It’s an often asked question. Years ago, we believed that great entrepreneurs were born, not made. The reality was that there was someone in that person’s background, or family that guided them. There was an unspoken mentor somewhere that taught them what they needed to know to be successful.

Many college programs began teaching and trying to institutionalize the lessons of entrepreneurship over the past twenty years. Studies were initiated and academics had data to gnaw on. Programs at Chicago Booth, Stanford and Babson are considered second to none and leaders in educating students on how to be successful.

I have sat in on classes taught by professors at U of C and I find myself learning something in every one I ever sat in. I take some nugget, some kernel of knowledge out that I didn’t know before.

So, if a student has the stomach for it, they can be an entrepreneur. That’s why this interview in the Wall Street was interesting to me. What the CEO of JetBlue had to say about certain things rang true to me. Here are the answers to two questions that I found particularly insightful.

WSJ: What do you tell students when they’ve failed?

Mr. Peterson: Knowing when to give up is important. Stopping sooner is smarter than going on forever with something that will never succeed.

WSJ: What’s your biggest [business] mistake?

Mr. Peterson: To trust people too much and too long. My leadership is derivative of high-trust relationships. More often than not it works, but when it doesn’t, it’s painful.

As I look back over my life as an entrepreneur and trader, I can see where I have tried to take too much out of something, or tried to make a losing proposition a winner when I should have just accepted failure and move on. There are also many times I have been too loyal to people that actually were in the game to put me out of it. Not everyone is your friend, even if they extend their hand to you.

That’s tremendously hard for optimistic people to get over. Entrepreneurs are inherently optimistic. Having lunch Friday with an old friend at the CBOT, we laughed about the differences between the floor and the real world.

Read the whole interview. Reflect back, and learn from your mistakes. Eventually you will be successful. Just make sure those mistakes you inevitably will make are not fatal.

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