A Good Education

It’s been a while since I went off on a good rant, so here goes. And it’s on a familiar subject. I have a new business coaching client who is failing in their business. We were talking about the issues involved with  his struggles when I had what the great Yogi Berra called “Deja vu all over again.”

I was reminded of a quote from one of my favorite go-to writers, Mark Twain. He once gave career advice: “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” Now before some of you throw your diplomas and your college debt accounting at me, let me explain. I’m sure what Mr. Twain was getting at was also the point I made with my new client. His excuse to me at the cause of his failing business didn’t hold water. I asked him, “So, what do you think is your biggest issue here?” He quickly said, “well, this business I’m in is new to me, and I need to learn it.”

I work with many businesspeople and entrepreneurs who tell me something similar. In years past, the statistics of failed businesses have been staggering. It’s estimated that 92% of all companies started today will be out of business in five years or less. I believe that one of the primary reasons this happens is that business owners forget the most significant tool available to them in starting and growing their business. Simply put, they do not honor their past.

I am a major proponent of everyone getting an education. However, you cannot run a business based on a textbook. Many will say, and I’m one of them, that a person’s education doesn’t start until they graduate. And all that a person learns over the years is a precious commodity. And, if you don’t acknowledge the knowledge you’ve acquired through success and failure, you will be doomed to fail.

Early in my entrepreneurial life, I was taught that a mistake is only an issue if you didn’t learn something from it. Then, Thomas Watson, of IBM fame, was asked his advice on speeding up a person’s rate of success. Mr. Watson famously said that to speed up your success rate, you had to speed up your failure rate.

It confounds me when people make the same mistake or fail at the same things repeatedly, not ever learning from the experience. For example, my client and many others had experience in sales, accounting, customer care, negotiation, purchasing, supply chain management, and leadership that they acquired from other jobs in their lifetime. But they didn’t learn anything from them.

Know this. Your formal education is less than 50% of your knowledge. Honor your past and the lessons you’ve learned so far. Learning is a lifetime skill. You have the knowledge or the ability to acquire any skill you need to achieve anything you can dream and succeed at it. Learning doesn’t stop when you get your degree, it’s just starting.

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