What College Never Taught Me About Business

By Rick Thomas, Business Advisor

June has been a busy month in our household with two graduations to celebrate; our oldest from college and our youngest from high school. As much as my wife and I are excited for the future that lay ahead of them, it is not without apprehension.

I have laid awake at night wondering if they are adequately prepared to enter the workforce and be the self-sustaining, contributing members of society we hope they’ll be. The unbiased answer is they will not be nearly as prepared as they need to be, but truth be told, neither was I. In comparison, however, I believe they are much better prepared than I was at their age.

Regardless, I found myself writing a top ten list the other day of what twenty-eight years in business and adult life has taught me, with the thought that it will be needed soon. It has not gone unnoticed of late that after enduring their teenage years replete with eye-rolls and monosyllable responses, suddenly my wife and I are smart again and are being asked for our advice.

In as much, following is my top ten list of key lessons I’ve learned in my career and business that college did not prepare me for:

1. Bad news does not get better with age – No one likes to deliver bad news. Hoping bad news will get better by ignoring it, however, is like pretending the bad smell in the refrigerator will eventually go away. It never does, and it just gets worse.

2. Occam’s Razor rules – In problem solving it means start with the simplest solution first, ie if the printer is not working, is it plugged in? I have found this theorem to save me countless hours in situations where my engineering brain would otherwise have me recalculating Einstein’s unified field theory to get the printer working.

3. Execution is worth a thousand times more than a good idea – A difficult lesson for the young and inexperienced; that good ideas are a dime a dozen, but only through effort and persistence is success usually found.

4. Hire slowly, fire quickly – One of the more difficult of lessons I have had to learn, that leaders usually know within the first month if a new employee is a fit or not. For those that are not, every day beyond that is not serving the business, which affects everyone.

5. Don’t expect someone else to believe in you more than you are willing to believe in yourself – Belief is an inside job. Those that demonstrate belief are the ones that are ultimately rewarded.

6. Nothing is more condemning than your self-imposed limitations – As was once wisely said, when it comes to ambitions most people aim too low and miss. What keeps us from aiming high is the belief we can’t, or don’t deserve to get there. Only you can control this.

7. Fear is your friend – Today’s fear is tomorrow’s discovery. Examine your fears for the opportunities they may be hiding and you will discover a wealth of experiences behind them.

8. Be a heretic – Derived from ancient Greek hairetikos, it means able to choose. Be a chooser. Make choices and take action. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll be right but you’ll learn from it and move on.

9. Love what you do – You will spend an average of 40% of your lifetime in your career or running a business. That is way too much time to devote to something that you don’t love to do.

10. Who you are in what you do is way more important than what you do – When we ascribe value to our self worth as a person rather than on the activity, then what we do becomes much less important. This has certainly been my experience in my various careers; that it has never been about the importance of the work in of itself, but about the contribution we make in service of others through the work.

Of all of these, the last is what I would want my children to internalize the most as they embark on their new careers. Perhaps you have your own top ten lists. Whether with a recent graduate or new employee, I encourage you to share the wisdom. You likely will make an impact in someone’s life far beyond your ability to see.