Frying Pan or Fire: Does Formal Education Meet Your Goals?

Frying Pan or Fire: Does Formal Education Meet Your Goals? - People Development Network
Frying Pan or Fire: Does Formal Education Meet Your Goals? - People Development Network
Hattie James, MBA

Hattie James, MBA

Hattie is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho. She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency. She recently completed her MBA and enjoys local ciders.
Hattie James, MBA


Writer, researcher, nerd. Contact me? Gmail = Twitter.
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Hattie James, MBA


Does formal education help meet your goals?

If you have the entrepreneurial bug, you have two major choices for starting a business: frying pan or fire. The frying pan? Getting a formal education. The fire? Starting that business.

Which choice is right for you? It depends on the type of entrepreneur you are. Are you the kind of person who doesn’t need help with idea generation?

Or are you the one whose entire life is organized down to the minute, and you have all the best productivity apps on the planet on your phone? If you’re the former, logic dictates it’s best you eschew business school for getting your big idea up and running, doesn’t it?

Logic is wrong. Why? You’re all about the ideas, but you may not be about the strategy, and that’s what will make your big idea successful.

Think Illogically

The same opposing thinking could be applied for the planner who’s great at strategy. You probably could forgo a formal education to jump right into the fire. You could even help your colleague with that big idea.

However, all entrepreneurs, whether they are ideas people or strategists, like to be mavericks. That’s what makes entrepreneurs want to be so. Still, without proper strategy, entrepreneurs are more than likely doomed to failure.

How, then, do you learn about strategy if you want to be successful? Take a business course. Do you have to get an M.B.A. like I did? Definitely not, but taking a formal course in business strategy will help you learn about strategic planning.

Strategic planning is the management of all the building blocks of an organization, from its stakeholders to its assets. Taking a course in strategic planning or earning a degree in business can teach you to define your business’s stakeholders and its assets. These will be different for every organization.

If you are focused on your big idea, how do you know how to identify these? You might know your key audience or target customer, one of many stakeholders for your organization. Yet there are many others, and I certainly never would have been able to identify them all had I not been taught how.

Because of these nuances, strategic planning is one of the most difficult yet fundamental concepts of any successful business. It doesn’t just include identifying stakeholders, but determining the value of your business.  As illustrated in this resource from Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, business valuation is essential for helping you form partnerships and plan into the long-term.  

Every entrepreneur should have a strategic plan, including valuations, in mind along with the big idea that inspired the business in the first place.  Every entrepreneur should also recognize that sometimes, you have to give up on a certain strategy and return to the plan.

Business courses and programs can even act as funding opportunities for those with big ideas and training. Because she was enrolled in a program that required her to take a course in IT strategy in Healthcare, Texas Health Resources employee and Arizona State University student Kacee Roberson was inspired to compete for one of three final spots in her employer’s healthcare innovation conference.

Her work in that program led to the development of an app for personal healthcare management, which then led to potential funding opportunities. Not all educational programs do. You can always hit up sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, or GoFundMe. If your idea is innovative enough, and your strategic business plan is sound, you will not have trouble raising funds.

What About the Fire?

Funding like what Roberson secured should always be part of the strategic plan, and if you are great at the strategy, jump into the fire by looking into startup incubators and accelerators. These can put you in touch with the big idea people who need a strategist to guide them or who haven’t made it to the frying pan yet.

Another way of jumping straight into the fire is to go to work for a venture capital firm. Firms like these come with deep pockets and need good strategists who can help mitigate the risks that come with funding the big ideas of entrepreneurs. The venture capital fire can help build your skills and resume while helping you find your own entrepreneurial opportunities.


The beauty of knowing the difference between the frying pan and the fire is that you can decide if a little of both is right for you. You can also pick one and do what most successful startups do: start with two. If you’re a frying pan entrepreneur, seek out a cofounder who’s a fire entrepreneur.

Your education and expertise will be complemented by his skills and real-world experience and vice versa. Most startup founders fear that they are lacking the necessary skills to be successful. When partnered with someone who has the skills they don’t, the chances of success increase exponentially.


Image courtesy of: HALDANE MARTIN via / CC BY  I the author have the right to use this image.