The Craigslist Test of the Value of a B.A.: Introduction to The Education of Millionaires

[Here is the full Introduction to my forthcoming book The Education of Millionaires. Since this piece is being made available here a month before the book is being released, Penguin has asked me to include the following proviso: “These are unrevised and unpublished proofs. Please do not quote for publication until verified with the finished book.” Thank you. Enjoy! –Michael]

You’ve been fed a lie. The lie is that if you study hard in school, get good grades, get into a good college, and get a degree, then your success in life is guaranteed.

This might have been true fifty years ago. But it is no longer true today.

If you want to succeed now, then you must also educate yourself in the real-world skills, capabilities, and mindsets that will get you ahead outside of the classroom. This is true whether you’ve been to college or not.

This book shows you the way.

Why Practical Intelligence Almost Always Beats Academic Intelligence

A thirty-seven-year-old Harvard MBA and a twentysomething college dropout, the latter a few credits shy of a film and theater degree from USC, are sitting across each other in a job interview. The MBA is wearing a crisply pressed three-piece suit with a yellow tie. The twentysomething is wearing jeans and a pullover sweatshirt, with no shirt underneath. The twentysomething is unshaven, and the state of his hair suggests that not much grooming had occurred between his departure from bed that morning and this interview.

The interview is going very, very poorly. The interviewer is entirely unimpressed with the academic background the interviewee brings to the table, and feels the interviewee doesn’t have enough experience to provide tangible value in the chaotic environment of a real-world start-up.

Bryan Franklin, the dropout theater major, decided to hire someone else that day for the $10-an-hour administrative and data entry job he had posted on Craigslist a few days before.

Bryan had started a sound design business in college and got too caught up in building and running the business to finish his degree. Eventually, over three hundred feature films were edited or mixed at his studio, including Gladiator, The Last Samurai, and Artificial Intelligence. Bootstrapping the business from the ground up and never once taking on investor money, he eventually sold it in 2000, after Dody Dorn was nominated for an Oscar for editing the film Memento, which she cut at the studio. The sale of the company “bought me a house on Lombard Street in San Francisco,” as Bryan put it with a smile.

Now in early 2002, he was on his third self-made, self-funded, profitable business, and he needed an assistant, so he posted an ad on Craigslist, Bryan told me. “Within twenty-four hours, I had two hundred responses. Most of them had BAs, but there were also many masters’, several with JDs who had passed the bar, a few PhDs, and around six MBAs. The Harvard MBA got me curious. I put him on a shortlist. He was one of the ten or so I interviewed.

“He came to my house in a three-piece suit. I was talking to him about the website he was going to be doing data entry for at ten dollars an hour, and he was stuck in a very 1999 mentality about the Web. I don’t think he said the word ‘IPO,’ but I’m pretty sure he said the word ‘liquidity’ at some point in the interview.

“And I’m like, ‘Look, I’m looking for data entry and customer service. I want to make sure that when a customer calls, they feel taken care of.’

“And he said, ‘Well, you know, I think that we need to be strategic about which relationships we can leverage . . .’ And that’s kind of how the interview went. At one point he started saying, ‘So, there’s obviously several disparate paths involved and different priorities, so one of the things I’d do in my first week is build a priority matrix, so that we could reference . . .’ And I just had this picture in my mind of him building his priority matrix while I was doing all the work.

“I ended up hiring a young African American woman. She was a high school dropout, but she had a great work ethic and lots of street smarts. She ended up doing a terrific job over three years. She got several raises, and at one point was managing three people.”

Next: What you will learn in college, and what you won’t

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

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  • Reply E August 18, 2011 at 4:02 AM

    I left school when I was 15 yet my last two roles were Operations Manager. The only thing I lack is the inside language of business.
    Unfortunately it’s an employers market here in New Zealand where, like your friend Bryan’s experience above, there are 200 applications or more for every job advertised. The process of elimination is tertiary and industry qualifications. If you have neither, you’re instantly binned.
    Most of my roles have been with ‘Bryans’ who can see through the type and value life experience (of which I have a Masters) over letters after a name. The Bryans are always more honest in their communication, realistic in their expectations and thoughtful in their rewards and I will happily wait years between Bryans for these very reasons.

    I really enjoy your writing style and have had similar life experiences to you (sans TC!) so I’m looking forward to reading your book. Have you thought of releasing it as an audio book? That seems to be how I do all of my reading these days. (Truth is that audio books on my MP3 player makes the mundane events in life such as going to the gym and housework more entertaining!!)
    Can’t wait to see what you come out with next…

  • Reply Beth Barany August 18, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Not many people know this but I dropped out of college for a break of a year and a half. I lived and worked in Paris and started my writing career there, with persistence and more persistence, until the editor finally said yes to publishing one of my articles. But only after I came to his office to pitch him face to face. I did go back to finish my degree, well almost. I didn’t complete the final paper for many years. I learned more out of school than I ever did in school. And school never taught me how to succeed in business. Bryan did. Looking forward to your book, Michael.

  • Reply SG August 19, 2011 at 5:43 AM

    Good article Michael. Street smarts and book smarts, as well as smarts in general versus motivation to succeed, are entirely different things. I commented recently on this subject in a recent post:

  • Reply @BrianHoffstein August 26, 2011 at 6:15 PM


    As someone going into his senior year at Claremont Mckenna College, I can only say it feels like this book was written for me.

    I share many of the same sentiments you have expressed, and am very eager to explore in depth the ideas you mentioned in this introduction.

    I just pre-ordered the book to my kindle, and look forward to its release.

    Best wishes and good luck,


  • Reply Marian Schembari August 30, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    I cannot WAIT until this book comes out. It’s already epic.

  • Reply Genius Intelligence August 31, 2011 at 9:22 PM

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  • Reply Kashif September 2, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Adding to your point of Academic Intelligence vs Practical Intelligence, I think Home Schooling is the way to raise kids rather than sending them to schools with herd mentality.

    • Reply Stephen Sadowski September 10, 2011 at 5:59 AM

      I would have to agree with you with the small caveat that an unschooling approach to home schooling is optimal for releasing the creativity and boundless energy of youth. A great resource for kids that are stuck in high school is Grace Llewellyn’s Teenage Liberation Handbook, written in a similar vein to this one, i.e. succeeding outside of the walls of formal educational institutions.

  • Reply John Taumoepeau September 8, 2011 at 3:13 AM

    Awesome read……very though provoking. Where is education headed? Etc., Can’t wait for the book!

  • Reply I blurbed a book — The Education of Millionaires - UnCollege September 12, 2011 at 8:23 PM

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  • Reply Clarence October 3, 2011 at 2:02 AM

    Man I have been reading about Micheal and this book for two days!! This information comes at a very pivotial point in my life. I have a BA in English (class of 07) and I have not been able to find a job. I decided at the beginning of this year to go back to school and
    get a degree in design. I planned to go for a bachelors in this because I was told that employers want to see it. But I found out that I have almost spent all of my federal loan money on my first degree. I will only be able to get a associates. I was hurt. Then I checked my facebook feed on friday night and I felt better, I began to read about this Micheal Ellsberg and his book I will get it No Doubt!!

  • Reply Occupy your life. | October 17, 2011 at 12:27 PM

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  • Reply Joe Magnotti October 12, 2012 at 3:03 AM

    Not sure I agree with what you say here. Back in 2002, the economy was in the shitter and that’s the only reason the MBA would apply for a $10 an hour data entry job. Agreed that the economy is in the shitter again, but now is the time to take advantage of talent at a reduced price. I would make the argument that Bryan’s case is a bad example — not that education means much, but a history of success is what I look for when hiring. You rarely find that with a HIGH SCHOOL dropout. He should have leveraged the situation and found a better employee at a reduced cost. In the end it worked out, but most of the time it won’t.

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