I suppose the time for this post is now, as I have been developing my teaching career to complement my business pursuits. Instructing classes in marketing and entrepreneurship at the bachelor and masters level has been an exciting and rewarding experience, given my current mission to focus on transferring knowledge to the next generation.
No doubt there are similarities between teaching and leading a team….and then between strategizing in both hypothetical and live environments. But what so far has struck me the most is the student perspective on learning and how this compares especially to what I see in entrepreneurship.
My central point in this post is that our experiences and the content we are exposed to will more often represent inputs for a much larger system to fuel our business acumen than outputs that we would apply directly. OK….so….what exactly do I mean….?
As students, as entrepreneurs, as anyone who is or aspires to be in business, we are undergoing a constant process of building and nurturing our business minds. It’s ultimately how we think – how we process business situations — that drives our results, even more than what we know. What we know is what the universe we are conscious of has experienced in the past; and because no two business situations are exactly the same, we can only do so much to leverage the past to create success in the present. We connect the past to the present by applying what we know to how we think to make the right decisions that are relevant to today.
I doubt much of this feels like new news. However I do find these notions to live in theory more than practice, especially for those of us more deliberately seeking to upgrade our business understanding. We do this a number of ways – taking courses, reading books, listening to podcasts, attending speaking engagements, networking. There is a host of ways to learn. Our misguided approach, though, is to search for answers, and to therefore tag most content as such at the intake.
The truth is, much of the material you’re taking in is teaching you how to think and not that much more. In academics I will provide theoretical frameworks. These are not so much formulae to solve business problems but rather the crank that gets your mind working to think through a situation. Once you learn a number of frameworks your mind starts to store them in your subconscious; eventually, you will start to draw from them naturally and in ways that are unique to you as your business experience builds. Your business mind starts to learn how to learn and how to think – the motions become automatic.
Same concept applies if you read a self-help business book or listen to a speaker. You may be told a founder started a company by taking 8 specific steps and consequently experienced success. Your takeaway should be much more about how they thought through their business situation because this is what your mind needs. Trying to replicate those 8 steps for yourself without understanding why these steps were taken is likely to lead you nowhere.
Still these sorts of business books sell so well. Their readers want short cuts. They believe that business teaching comes with blueprints. Since they are trusting that business success is a formula, they become formula seekers, when in fact to be successful in business you have to become a formula maker. It’s how you assess your environment and create a unique recipe from your volumes of business knowledge that will engineer your outcomes. For anything that smells like a formula, accept it as a rule of thumb at most.
If business success was largely formulaic, AI + big data would have by now facilitated predictive models to solve the problem of over 90% of businesses (startups at least) failing. We’re not even close to that sort of solution. Business is an incredibly human venture that operates on emotions every bit as much as it does on statistical guidelines. It’s an irreconcilable combination of art and science. It’s like the stock market – you can science the begeezus out of it with some solid wins but the markets are at the end of the day the result of user sentiment all wrapped up in a complex web of world events that are nearly impossible to harness into reliable algorithms.
We close the gap by building our own. That’s it, in a nutshell – a lifelong pursuit of building our original business frameworks and algorithms that importantly factor in our instincts and an innate sense of the very human dynamics of the discipline. These elements have no mathematical operators yet they can account for unusual circumstances such as a car company by the name of Tesla having a larger market cap than any American auto maker yet has only shown limited financial viability in over a decade since its inception.
Frame your own business experiences with the same perspective. I have seen a number of entrepreneurs (and other business types) achieve results and then land on a number of causal factors through a debrief. What sadly can happen as a result is the condition of a hammer looking for a nail; we take these success factors and try to apply them everywhere almost by rote.
I watched this in action just a few months ago as I was explaining my approach to marketing an app I planned to build to a young entrepreneur. He was dismayed that I left out a tactic that he has had success with in his business; in his mind he had ‘perfected the model’. I tried to explain to him that no single tactic is universally successful; and in fact would his would not be appropriate for my business in the early phases. He wasn’t having any of it, and I didn’t force the issue. I’ll let his experience be his learning – I don’t have to be that source for him.
Yes, every business opportunity is a unique situation calling for an original recipe to serve up results. And you, my friend, are the secret sauce in that recipe. Many of the ingredients need not be original – feel free to borrow from others as part of your inputs. Combine and sequence your chosen ingredients while adding some of your own to create a nuanced formulation reflective of the craft. Continue your journey as a process of learning to learn…and learning to think like an entrepreneur or capable business person overall. Don’t look for answers – these either come from or will be validated by you. It’s your business mind and nobody else’s that can, should and will direct you.