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How Unconventional Majors Can Help You Thrive in Entrepreneurship

Why Taking Anthropology and Other Unconventional Majors Can Help Entrepreneurs Succeed
David Dietz does business at a Cairo cafe
Image credit: Amina Taha

Ask David Dietz, the founder of sustainable fashion retailer Modavanti, and he’ll tell you double-majoring in Arabic was one of the best things he ever did.

“When you study Arabic, you have to be very disciplined and diligent about learning the grammar rules, practicing writing the script and, of course, reading,” says the Georgetown University graduate. “As a young entrepreneur starting a business, that sort of discipline is imperative.”

Why Taking Anthropology and Other Unconventional Majors Can Help Entrepreneurs Succeed
Professor Neck connects with his students

While Dietz acknowledges taking businesses classes like economics helped, some experts believe young entrepreneurs are actually more artistic than they would like to think.

“An entrepreneur creates a business from a dream in the same manner that a painter creates a masterpiece from a canvas and tubes of paint,” says Philip Black, the president of Houston-based Urban Business Initiative, an organization that provides business education classes.

And the similarities don’t stop there. “Successful entrepreneurs spend countless hours at their kitchen table working out the details of their business just as a virtuoso spends long hours rehearsing,” Black says. “And both need the confidence to ignore criticism.”

Four unconventional majors:
If you are still unsure about what possible areas you should explore, workplace consultant Steve Langerud steers you to four majors you should consider to help bolster your entrepreneurship skills:

1. Geography. Studying the lay of the land, can actually help entrepreneurs develop skills in data analysis, patterns and trends.

2. Anthropology. Understanding people and systems are a key skill for entrepreneurship. Also, if you can learn how to do an ethnography (research that focuses on a particular culture), you’ll be well equipped in the business world when engaging with various people.

3. English. Developing the ability to read and analyze dense materials with a critical eye, delving deeply into character and motivation and clearly expressing yourself in writing are backbones for successful entrepreneurs. These skills will help you know yourself, your employees and market.

4. Law. Knowing the right question to ask is more critical to entrepreneurs than knowing the right answer. Plus, being familiar with the law can assist you when making imperative decisions for your business.

But when it comes to nailing down a major, the answer isn’t so simple.

“I always tell my students to major in something they’re passionate about,” says Christopher P. Neck, an associate professor of management at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business.

Once you find your passion, next comes the goal of learning as much as you can about that discipline and the industries related to it.

“For example, if you want to be an entrepreneur in the music industry, learn as much about music as you can,” Neck says. “Then perhaps minor in some business courses like marketing and accounting or some computer-related courses.”

As for Dietz, studying Arabic has done more than increase sales. It has also given him instant credibility.

“When I meet a designer or brand rep at a trade show and they are Middle Eastern, speaking Arabic is an almost automatic guarantee that I’ll be able to sign that brand,” he says. “It has already happened three times and was something I could never have planned for, or accomplished, had I only studied economics.”

What other unconventional courses have you taken that have helped you be a better entrepreneur? Let us know in the comments.

Lambeth Hochwald is a freelance journalist, whose stories have appeared in magazines such as Coastal Living, O The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple and Redbook. She is also an adjunct professor at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

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