This weekend I traveled up to Saratoga Springs and to teach a few business classes at Skidmore College (my alma mater). In order to keep things fresh, and to avoid boring students I’ve already taught (I go up twice per year), I try to prepare a new presentation for each trip.
This time I prepared a short presentation on the top five things I’ve learned since graduating college. Here are the points – in no particular order.
1) Own your mistakes.
When an error occurs, it’s very tempting to minimize, hide, obscure, or otherwise avoid it. The natural urge is to run away, but this urge must be resisted. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s the leaders that take responsibility. If an error or a wrong decision occurs in a project you’re working on, jump on it. Next time you’ll have the responsibility and authority to make the right decision.
2) There are lots of different kinds of intelligence.
The “absolute” measures of intelligence promoted by schools and universities (e.g. standardized tests) map somewhat poorly to life outside of academia. In the real world, there isn’t a one-dimensional continuum of intelligence, but rather there are lots of different kinds of intelligence. A diversely intelligent team that works well together will always beat a team made up of just the “smartest” individuals.
3) Current process is never the best process.
As a new employee in a company, it’s very temping to assume that the current process for doing any task is the best and most efficient way. This assumption is logical – after-all the process must have been created that way for a reason, right? Wrong. Current process usually works, but it is rarely the absolute best way. There is always room for process innovation.
4) “I’m waiting for my business idea” is crap.
The key to successfully launching any new business or new project is being willing to pivot or fail 99 times, before finding one thing that works. It’s extremely rare for a business to succeed exactly as the founder has predicted when drafting the business plan. Don’t wait around for the perfect idea because that idea probably won’t work. However, if you start with an industry you’re passionate about and you’re willing to pivot, you’ll have a shot at success.
5) Always set appropriate expectations
Whether it’s dealing with customers, your boss, your subordinates or your family, setting and meeting expectations is extremely important. It’s far better to set an achievable expectation and meet it than it is to set an unrealistic expectation and fall short. The only thing worse than not meeting expectations is failing to set them at all.
What are some of the top things you’ve learned since college?