Learning about Business

When I left the Army and started working at an applied research and consulting group at Mount Allison University I didn’t really know much about the business world. After several years, I’ve realised that there were some things that transferred from military to civilian life. In the past decade I’ve learned a lot, mostly from experience, conversation, and observation. It’s been an interesting apprenticeship.

I’ve found that you learn much more from failure than success. One difference between school and life is that in school you get the lesson followed by the test. When you run a business you get the test first and then you have to figure out the lesson. Two unsuccessful business models showed me the importance of understanding the fundamentals of what makes an organisation work, how it it supports its operations and how it works with its markets or with those who fund it. I also feel that any business success you may have is a result of luck, timing, and the support of others. Any failures are mostly yours to bear because you probably could have done things differently. Humility is a trait of the long-term successful entrepreneur.

I’m not sure if you can train someone to become an entrepreneur or even a free-agent. Skills are not as important as attitude and motivation. I don’t think that I would have been successful running my own company when I was younger, as I wasn’t motivated. Now, with a family and an understanding of what I like to do, it’s fairly easy. That doesn’t mean that you can’t prepare for entrepreneurship. Having good communication, planning, or technical skills can be a real benefit once you decide to take the plunge. Also, the economy may force you into self-employment, so it’s handy to have a good business tool set.

Being a good communicator is important but so is the ability to listen and observe. I’ve seen businesses fail because the executives believed their own marketing hype. Early success can close your eyes to reality, so you need a trusted network of advisors who will keep you grounded. Listening includes looking outside for ideas and information. Even though I spend a lot of time reading online, books let me dig deeper into a subject.

Some books that have helped me along the way:

The Art of the Start for staying focused on the essentials of any start-up venture.

Seeing What’s Next if your business is entering an existing market.

Free Agent Nation if you want to work for yourself.

The Future of Work to understand some of the forces of change influencing how we work.

The Future of Management to see how flawed our current management models are for our needs.

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