Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lesson #22 - Learn a little about everything

'Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.'

- Albert Einstein

One aspect of entrepreneurship that I always felt was critical in my success, and I think is something that is important in life despite your occupation is the commitment to learning. You cannot rely on what you know to be successful, you need to invest time in learning new skills and continuing education as you build your company.

Every new skill I learned when running a venture became a critical stepping stone to future ventures. Understanding all aspects of operating a business including technology, marketing, sales and financials empowers you to be able to manage a business, but also take control when necessary in order to succeed.

I will be the first one to agree with statement - "There is no substitute for experience", but the precursor to this statement is that there is "No experience without education". In order to truly experience all aspects of being an entrepreneur you need to learn the basics, understand the concepts and then enhance your knowledge with experience.

Here are some tips and suggestions on how to continue education while being an entrepreneur:

1. Talk to the Experts - If you want to get a snapshot of an industry, technology or any subject that pertains to your business - find an expert and spend some time asking questions. You would be surprise how much you can learn in an hour of Q&A with someone who has spent a life time studying a subject. Experts come in many forms - Academic (Professors), Experienced (Successful Professionals) and Evangelists (Innovators). Find a few experts, have questions in hand and prepare to learn.

2. Webinars - Another great way to hear experts is through conferences and seminars. If you have the time and money, it may be worth it to attend these types of events. Its been my experience that it can be hit or miss, so the investment of travel and time may amount to zero value. Over the past years, I have spent more time attending webinars. Webinars are typically free (or very cheap) and you can attend over the web, and not have to leave the office to get 1-2 hours of education. Also, because it is a webinar, the presenter is usually an expert sitting at their office as well. Most webinars also give attendees the ability to ask questions - which is sometimes impossible at conferences and seminars.

3. Shadow - If you don't have much experience as an entrepreneur (just left your day job, or just graduated from school) - a great way to learn is to shadow experts during their day. This can be accomplished multiple ways - including becoming an apprentice or assistant. Many of the successful entrepreneurs I have met throughout my years I have spent numerous days shadowing them as a way to see how they interact with other people, make decisions and ask questions about their experiences.

4. Podcasts - If you are like me, you probably spend a good time in front of a computer and listen to music in the background while working. Although I do a lot of reading, I have found listening to podcasts while working can be just as informative. There are a lot of experts that publish podcasts about different subjects, and if you are interested in learning about something it can be integrated easily into your day. While you are sitting in front of the computer working on some mundane task, play a podcast in the background.

5. Online Forums - Most people think Forums are just a place for people who are lonely or nerds who want to share a new hack. Not true. Forums can be a great place to ask questions and get smart answers. Yes, most forums do tend to be technical in nature - but there are more and more business related forums which encourage entrepreneurs to contribute experiences, recommendations and help answer common questions. Obviously, you want to always qualify your source before you take a post as gospel, but if you are looking to just share ideas, get feedback or ask for opinions - forums can be a great resource for learning. A few that I have used at LinkedIn Answers and Yahoo Answers.

As you can see, learning can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and can easily be integrated into your busy schedule. You don't have to block out 4 hours to take a class, or spend 20-30 hours reading books. Learning can become part of your daily routine while sitting at your desk or networking with other entrepreneurs.

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