In his book “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely, a professor at MIT’s Sloan school describes an experiment that he performed.  He gave three classes three different choices regarding their required assignments for class.  Each class was given three written exams that needed to be submitted over the course of the semester. 

The first class was given until the last day of the class to submit all three, with the warning that leaving them all until the last minute was unwise. 

The second class was given a structured schedule with a penalty of a 1% deduction for each day late where the schedule was the end of first, second and third month of the semester respectively. 

The third class was given the choice of setting their own individual schedule, any three dates that they liked, so long as all there were before the end of the semester.  As with the second group, late papers were penalized 1% per day.  Once the dates were selected, they could not be altered.  Obviously, a student could voluntarily select the last day of the semester for all three, but if a student felt that they tended to procrastinate, then they could arrange for their own deadlines and provide their own targets for performance.

Dan found that the first class did the worst, the second the best, and the third somewhere between.  His conclusion is that many of us perform better when there is structure imposed from above, which he called the “Parental Voice.”

While Dan and I both teach marketing in a business school, we differ on the lesson learned from his experiment.  My students are all self selected for being entrepreneurs.  They all would like to start and manage their own businesses.  My own experience is that part of entrepreneurship is to learn to operate and find success in an unstructured environment.  There is no “Parental Voice” when you’re running your own business.

Each semester, my students are asked to grade me as their instructor and often I receive the negative feedback that they wish that I would provide more structure for them: regular assignments with clearly stated due dates.

Most recently, I was just about to relent and modify my course so that much like Dan’s it would have three papers, with three due dates, however, with the help and guidance of some of my friends, who are not teachers, but do run their own businesses, I’ve decided to stay the course.

Real life in the real world of entrepreneurs requires that you find your own voice of guidance.  It’s not about me playing the role of parent for my students. 

As well, I further tend to disorient my students with my obvious disinterest in the grading system of the school.  My method for assigning grades is predominantly based upon a form that each student fills out which highlights clearly my set of defined measurements for their achievements over the semester, but I leave it to each student to come up with their own grade based upon these criteria.

Again, in my own defense, my understanding of the real life of an entrepreneur is that it is not the measurement by others that is relevant, but rather one’s own sense of accomplishment that is key.  I leave it to my students to find their own motivation, evaluate their own sense of accomplishment and worth.

I have decided to change one aspect of my course, however, I will be having a discussion with them on the first day in order to share with them a better understanding of my goals for them and what the course might entail.  I leave it to them to drop the course if they are uncomfortable with the lack of structure and guidance that they have come to expect from the educational system which is not available in my course.