Q: Chris, It seems that you have a pretty good understanding of the business world. I, myself, have stayed mostly in the educational culture. I’ve played around a bit with the idea of starting a business after I get my bachelors in Math & Physics this coming year. What things, would you say one needs to learn before he/she is likely to succeed at business? Clark Kogan
A: Hey Clark, I’m flattered that you’re interested in my answer to this question, but more ink has been spilled on this topic than probably any other in the field and I doubt I can add anything that’s fresh or useful to the existing body of thought on the subject. But because you asked (and because I enjoy answering), here are a couple of thoughts for you to consider:
It’s not as much what you need to learn as what you may need to unlearn. 90% of business decision-making is plain common sense. The other 10% may require some kind of specialized insight or expertise, but in my experience that 10% takes years to develop and simply can’t be acquired without going through repeated (and often painful) cycles of trial and error. What tends to prevent people from being “successful” is not a lack of education, but rather an unwillingness to be wrong, to look stupid, or to try something that others think is sure to fail. If you can unlearn some of the lessons that our culture works so hard to teach us – “don’t make mistakes”, “don’t break the rules”, “just try to be like everyone else” – you will open yourself up to possibilities that most other people won’t consider, and that’s a great first step toward achieving something that most other folks won’t.
It helps to be really, really angry about something. I’m not recommending that you go look for opportunities to be mad at anyone. In fact, this is less a piece of advice than an observation: everyone I know who’s achieved extraordinary success (and I don’t count myself in this group by a long shot) has done so in large part to prove someone else wrong. Maybe it was a parent who said they’d never amount to anything, or a peer group that looked down on them in high school for being different, or an admissions department that failed to recognize their brilliance, but somewhere along the way the world told them they were no good and they’ve spent the rest of their lives proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re just as good as – better, in fact – than anyone who ever put them down. If this happened to you, I’m sorry about the very real hurt that you suffered, but I’m also happy to say that you now possess the most important thing you need to succeed in business: the absolute, burning certainty that you deserve to succeed.