Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What No Textbook Can Teach You

By: Andreas Widmer, Director of Entrepreneurship Programs

Andreas Widmer is Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at The Catholic University of America and President of The Carpenter’s Fund. He is also the author of The Pope and the CEO, chronicling the lessons of a young Swiss guard serving Pope John Paul ll. 

The raison d’ĂȘtre of a business goes far beyond profitability. It’s true that a business needs profit like human beings need oxygen. If you take it away, certain death will be the consequence, yet it’s not our primary reason for living. 

A business lives out of something much deeper than just profit. There’s more to business than what is traceable in a textbook. At the core of a business is something that can’t be easily explained. It’s more of a feeling than a fact. So how does one best convey that to an aspiring business student?

At CUA, our freshmen business students’ first assignment is to each start their own “company.”  Specifically, each student is asked to start a special interest blog. By exploring what they have to offer others in terms of their unique interest or expertise, they create a website that explains and explores this topic and recommends various products along the way.

These blogs are then monetized in part through strategies such as affiliate marketing. As an affiliate of websites like Amazon, the student earns a bonus each time someone buys through one of their links. Thus each student creates their own “small business” during the first semester of their freshman year.

This simple exercise serves better than any lecture I could give or any book I could recommend to have someone experience the true purpose and motivation of business: Business is not selfish but inherently “other directed.” Businesses have to offer a product or service that target customers are willing to buy. Business starts with putting myself in the other person’s shoes to see the world from his or her perspective. That is the substantive difference between selfishness and self-interest.  It’s a point that you can only learn by doing.

And learn they do: Every time I teach the course, I am astonished at the marvelous expertise, experiences and knowledge the students have to offer. Their blogs range from how to raise chickens to where to buy the best makeup, from starting an art collection to finding the ideal community service, and they never cease to amaze me.

Have a look yourself (and spread the word!) And if you like one, please tweet it with the hashtag #CUAstudentblog.

The process of business is simple but profound: You start simply with a thought, an idea in your head. By focusing on it and your action, it slowly becomes a physical reality. You have become a creator. In fact, this act of creation exactly mimics the very first act of creation: God thought of the world and it came into existence.  Think about it: when we work, we actually imitate God! This is why I believe that business is a noble calling, even a spiritual undertaking. It is in the very sense of the word a path to holiness.

Contributed by Andreas Widmer
Director of Entrepreneurship Programs
The Catholic University of America, School of Business and Economics


  1. What a great idea. This teaches the students in a practical and exciting way instead of learning from a textbook. Entrepreneurial spirit cannot be learned, it must be experienced. Plus, the added incentive of being able to make some money (after all, we are just poor college kids!) allows students to truly become invested in the project. Excellent project, Dr. Widmer.

  2. I love this idea Professor Widmer, and wish that I had been able to experience this as an undergrad! This project is clearly where some of the most important lessons of business school come together as one process: discover what you're passionate about, contemplate how you can use this passion to make the lives of others better, learn how to market and execute an idea, and, most importantly, create! And in creating, we do indeed imitate God in a meaningful and moving way. I look forward to checking these blogs out!