Being an entrepreneur these days requires an understanding of a thousand topics, many of which don’t even exist today in traditional learning vehicles, like schools and textbooks. The Internet and its information wave have changed everything – it’s the problem, with constant change, and it’s the solution, if you use it to navigate quickly and self-educate.
True entrepreneurs love to learn, unlearn, and relearn, whether they are 20 years old, or 60 years old. A new business means change, so they deal in change, and relish the journey. Usually it’s called initiative, dedication, and can-do attitude.
But under these words are some common principles that every entrepreneur needs to follow implicitly or explicitly, to keep up with change, and actually make change:
- Stay open to learning. Unlearning and relearning doesn’t require that you toss out any of your accumulated experiences or know-how. It just requires a relentless focus and willingness to do better things, and accept better ways of getting things done.
- Challenge your assumptions. Resist the instinctive urge to only use your proven assumptions. When you believe you know the best way to do something, you are less willing or open to unlearn it or try something new. Routinely check the Internet for alternate approaches.
- Strive to understand, rather than memorize. You have to understand why you do things a certain way, before you can hope to improve, or even recognize a new and better way. You have to understand why people need something they don’t have, before you can create it, or market it effectively.
- Share what you do know. The process of sharing what you know forces you to better understand it yourself. When I do mentoring and writing about current experiences, I realize all the things I don’t know, and this gives me more incentive to learn more.
- Never assume you can’t learn something. With the Internet, new things are much easier to learn than many years ago, when you had to wait for the textbooks and the experts. Perfecting your knowledge is like dealing with competitors, if you aren’t gaining on them, you are rapidly losing ground.
- Actively look outside the box. The Internet today, with its vast array of sources, and sophisticated search engines, is the perfect vehicle to take you out of your known realm, and allow you to make your own rules. Take the time to follow a couple of results you would normally discard, and you will learn something every time.
- Focus on relationships. Business relationships with people who know things is the only way to trump the Internet. Their expertise, and their ability to explain it, are a combination you can’t match any other way. You can’t know too many experts, and social networks are the new way to find them.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Avoid the arrogance trap of never asking for help or asking for feedback. The more open you are to other input, the more accurate your sense will be of how other people perceive you, and which actions to unlearn. At least with the Internet, you can ask for help anonymously.
Entrepreneurs who depend on the ‘traditional’ learning process (schools, formal classes, practice problems, and risk-free iterations) are doomed in founding a startup. Either they never get started, they take too long, spend too much on experts, or they fail using obsolete methods.
Yes, our education system is part of the problem, still pushing the traditional learning process (which bores the kids of today), and our culture is part of the problem, where everyone assumes they will learn all they need in the first 30 years, and can relax and enjoy their leadership role after that. But if your business fails, you are the problem.
If you haven’t started yet, the first thing you need to learn is how to use the Internet effectively. If you are thinking classes and training, you are already in trouble. Try the Internet today – you can’t break it, and it won’t break you. You can ride the information wave, or be swamped by it.