Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's that pesky magnet in your butt, actually.

I have another confession to make.  Yeah; I have a lot of confessions.  I'm like that.

Apparently, I am possessed of a strong and perhaps singular ability to attract graduate students that crash and burn half-way through their programs.  Of the seven I've had in the last four years, three of them have just fallen apart at the seams, and either dropped out and returned to the lab, flaked out and returned to Eastern Europe, or vanished without a trace.

I just got two new ones about three months ago.  Lost another one already.  I called it the minute she walked in the door.

The kids who do well in programs like this (our program combines a fairly rigorous science curriculum and an even more rigorous business curriculum) are kids who have had to struggle in their science programs to date.  The reason is simple:  They're not scientists.  They went into science because they were good at it and their parents wanted them to become doctors.  They struggle in science because their minds are wired for something much less specialized, much more risky, and altogether more...integrated...than lab work.  More Entrepreneurial.

Entrepreneurs are, at their core, absolutely comfortable with failure.  If you don't fail at least twice for every success you have as an entrepreneur, you haven't pushed yourself hard enough.  If we're training entrepreneurs, we need to get them used to not having all the answers, to living with uncertainty and with the idea that even your mentor can't predict with certainty if your answer will actually be the right one.

The kids who have struggled with science -- with the rigidity, the memorization, the rules, the laws, the concept that there are potentially immutable constants -- they fight against rules.  They are comfortable with failure.  They embrace risk.  And frankly, because they have learned to fight with absolutes and "right" and "wrong" they have, by definition, learned to fall on their faces without breaking their noses...or at least they've learned to make a crooked nose look attractive.  

Some of the kids who walk through this door have never failed at anything in their lives.  Further, because Science (!) has "rules" and "laws" associated with it, it's fairly easy to spot when you're just plain wrong about something, at least at the Undergrad level.  All these rules and laws get turned on their heads in graduate school, but the science programs sort of ease you into that whole concept.  Not so with an entrepreneurship program.  There is a mindset that says, "I'm good a science...brilliant, really.  In fact, I'm just really, really frickin' smart overall.  And these business types are morons, you know?  So if I can just study the rules and theory of business, I can take all these smarts and go off and follow the formula and make a ton of money."  Which turns out all to be complete bullshit, if you're dealing with human elements like caprice and greed.  This rocks. their. world.

Which still doesn't explain why the over-achiever types all end up working for me.  Perhaps because at that age, I got the same headache-inducing wake-up slap.  And while I stumbled and fell, I also learned to get up and dust off and move on to better things.

I'm happy to take these kids on; to help them stand up and dust off.  Does the dean sense this and deliberately send these kids to me?  Do I drive them to the brink?  Maybe I'm boot camp.  But seriously, I just need some competent help that resists the urge to have a nervous breakdown when things go wrong.