A mentor and previous boss of mine presented me with an interesting challenge when I talked to him last: How can you increase Princeton’s entrepreneurial mindset, or more importantly how can you get people interested in building things, moving away from theoretical and into practical?
This is an age old question that we struggle with as a community at Princeton. We, as a school, are structured towards being formulaic, being problem solvers that drive towards the perfect solution. Our culture fosters the qualities of hard work, practical thinking, and risk aversion, all barriers to becoming an entrepreneur. One might ask, “Why do these qualities emerge from the Princeton Product?” I believe that this comes from the way our campus is built, and the way our class policies are structured. The limited amount of PDFs available to each student, and the rampant use of Grade Deflation force Princeton students to be more cautious with course selection. If you get stuck in a course that pushes your boundaries in a way that you cannot cope with, you end up dropping the class and falling behind your classmates. This helps reinforce the idea that the risk of doing something in the unknown is not a good choice. It reinforces that taking risks can lead to many negative consequences. Perhaps, if we weren’t all so worried about our grades, about our large amount of homework, perhaps if we were allowed to explore different courses without having to be the brightest in those courses we would be more willing to explore.
Where do ideas come from? They come from a culture of sharing thoughts, having deep discussions with people from diverse backgrounds. At Princeton, unlike Stanford, we all live in columns, where all the doors automatically close. You have to physically buy a doorstop to keep your door open. This increases the inertia to talk to your hall mates, and your close by neighbors. A decrease in communication will naturally lead to a more competitive and less open minded culture.
So, perhaps a potential solution? One idea that my mentor and previous boss brought up was the concept of a Ideathon competition. A ramification of the entrepreneurial cycle where one first comes up with an idea, builds the idea, posts the idea, and gains points for the popularity of the idea. Every member can up vote any others idea, and for every download the application, for every page visit, the score of the application, and thus the team, goes up by one. The person with the highest score becomes the resident hacking team, gets some sort of prize, and immediate access to great companies.
What do you think?