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The Thales Society: Why St. John’s is the Perfect Education for Entrepreneurs


This is a guest post by Adam Braus, a graduate of the Santa Fe Campus in the class of 2008.


Welcome to the first meeting of the St. John’s Thales Society for Entrepreneurs.
Liberal Arts and Entrepreneurship

After graduating from St. John’s I was convinced I would get a PhD in political philosophy from some good Straussian school; that, or I would go to law school. Sound familiar? These are valuable career paths, and a few of my best friends went down them. However, I’m here to make the case that the St. John’s education prepares every one of its graduates for another career: entrepreneurship.

Let’s first clear the air about entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur today is very different from 20 years ago. Entrepreneurs used to be straight business people — they sold widgets nobody needed, wore suits, and they had more money than they know what to do with. In short, they were sell-outs.

Today being an entrepreneur is a creative and educational lifestyle. For the entrepreneur, marketing is about conversations and out-teaching your competition. Product development is about having the insight and intuition to solve problems or realize opportunities, and then testing your hypotheses scientifically in the market place. Teamwork is about inspiring and mentoring a team of diverse and creative people. More than these details — being an entrepreneur is damn fun.

I will not argue that you can shoehorn the St. John’s education into entrepreneurship the way you can into any job. I’m going to argue that St. John’s students are the absolute best candidates to be entrepreneurs in our society for the following reasons.

Comfort With Doubt

The core goal of an entrepreneur is epistemological: to discover repeatable and scalable business models. That means that most of the time, you don’t know if what you are doing is right or is going to work. Sound familiar? Other schools make people feel very uncomfortable with doubt. At St. John’s we dip into doubt at least once a day, and most of us spend the majority of our four years there. We learn how to operate and perform in doubt, not to be frozen or dismayed by it.

Driven By Hypothesis and Experimentation

The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, is the Great Book of startups. It gives its readers a road map and the reasoning behind a new way to do venture creation. Ries suggests that it is through hypothesis, experimentation, metrics, and iteration that an entrepreneur succeeds. More than any other students, even scientists, Johnnies are great at following the scientific method, and therefore the entrepreneurial method that Ries suggests.

Advantage in Creativity

Creativity is combinatory. The ability to innovate and come up with new ideas is about mixing ideas across history, disciplines, and industries.

Some of the best ideas come from mixing old ideas with new problems. Traditional universities generally impart a historical perspective that is about fifty years old and teaches students to silo their minds and curiosity within one speciality. St. John’s imparts a historical perspective that is thousands of years long and denies fundamentally any distinction in disciplines, exactly the opposite of conventional studies. Johnnies graduate with a second nature of building connections across history and disciplines. Because of this, Johnnies develop an advantage in creativity over other degree programs.

Marketing is Conversations

Marketing and branding today is no longer a one way street; it’s a conversation. So are business development and sales. The ability Johnnies develop to listen actively and then respond in terms our interlocutors can understand, and the ability to be dialectical and rhetorical, are absolutely invaluable.

Coding after Euclid and Ancient Greek

Software development is nothing compared to studying Euclid and Ancient Greek. Check out CodeAcademy, or Try Ruby, Objective C (for iPhone), Rails for Zombies, Ember.js, and Rails Tutorial.

Don’t form an LLC and blah blah blah. That will all come later.

Just read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Get an idea. And find some partners and mentors and start conversations.

You could also go to a nearby Startup Weekend. These events are priceless.


Adam Braus graduated from the Santa Fe Campus in 2008. He now lives in Madison, WI, where he tends to his startup non-profit, 100state. Some of his other projects have been BankmyBiz and PatientProxy. He writes regularly at Entreprenography.com, where he loves to answer questions and offer guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs.

The student writing staff of the johnnie chair blog

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