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Entrepreneurship is not something they teach you in college. This is because professors usually focus more on theory than on application. However, in the real world, street smarts and personal interaction are more valuable than hypotheticals.
After a brief experience with higher education, I realized there was a vast gulf between academic thought and real-world application. To be an entrepreneur, you need to understand how things work in the real world. Here are seven skills they don’t teach you in college.
1. Experience and reflection — staying focused.
Business is all about leveraging your strengths to overcome your weaknesses. However, you won’t know what your strengths are until you take action. Learn from your experiences and the experiences of those around you. In this world of competition, you need to take in everything happening around you and spend time reflecting on those experiences. Once you’ve learned where your areas of strength are, you can use those skills in sales, negotiations and elsewhere.
Entrepreneurship is a journey. If you fail, ask yourself why, and figure out how you can avoid the mistake in the future. This is the hallmark trait of a successful entrepreneur, and it can’t be taught, only learned. In order to capitalize from failure, you have to be in a position to fail in the first place.
2. Motivation and advantage — reading people.
For a businessperson, empathy is a key part of getting other people on board. If you are launching a product or service, you need to get others to love it.
Everyone has a unique set of desires. When you interact with someone, think about the scenario from their perspective and explain how it benefits them and fulfills their desires. If you’re able to read people and ascertain their desires, you can present the benefits that will assist them.
No college class teaches you about the various types of characters you’ll meet or how to read them. Yet this is one of the most important things you can learn. Street smarts, or simply an ability to read situations, allow you to achieve success with what you are given.
If you can identify what drives a person, you will have an advantage in negotiations. As you think up creative solutions, you can use this information in order to get a yes.
3. Ebb and flow — timing it.
Great ideas developed by great teams executing perfect business plans fail all the time. Society is not ready for some ideas; so, timing is critical. For example, Facebook’s rise was dependent upon a viral leveraging of college campuses via email addresses. Similarly, if Elon Musk had launched his electric car earlier it could have been a disaster. He understood that “being green” was trendy with wealthy people, and offering a new option that caught that trend is what led to his success. Delaying or misidentifying the market entry point would have meant failure.
College professors talk about timing in their classes, but you have to be out there, experiencing the ebb and flow of business tides, to really nail it. Trying to get timing right without real-life experience can lead to disaster.
4. Commitment and belief — following your passion.
You must be prepared to follow your passion wherever it leads. Nobody is going to follow a person who doesn’t believe in him- or herself. Even in the hardest of times, entrepreneurship requires your commitment and belief. You need to believe in your passions to get others to do the same. If you lack that confidence, you will crumble.
Passion is something that can’t be taught in a college classroom, though it can certainly arise in a college student. Once you figure out what your passion is, seize it with both hands, and go where it leads you.
5. Perception and reality — controlling both.
Drop the rebel act. Present yourself in a professional manner, and you’ll leave a strong first impression. If you leave a bad first impression, you might lose a sale or a key partner. Do not change who you are, but make sure you look and act professional.
Let people know you can execute on your statements by coming across as effective and mature. If you seem confident, that will translate into trust, which is crucial in business. If people see you as someone they cannot trust, the quality of your product or service will not matter. Take the time to craft a presentable persona and to develop a positive attitude.
Be human and be yourself, just ensure that you play down your bad habits and build up your good qualities. People who are too casual usually do not get the chance to give a real pitch, but being too stiff can also put people off. The sweet spot is somewhere in between, and it cannot be taught in college. You’ll have to experiment with looks and attitudes in order to find yours.
6. Risk and reward — daring.
Once you’ve learned to believe in yourself and make a great impression, and are able to read people, you can use those skills to gain an edge to stay in control. All you need to do is make the most of the chances that come your way.
Taking risks while following your passion is the key to becoming a successful entrepreneur. This skill requires a combination of reading people and timing, with an added touch of daring. However, this is something you won’t learn in college. In order to take risks, you have to be in the world and living in the moment, where consequences are real.
7. Experience and passion — finding success.
Every startup needs a different strategy, but there is no magic trick to finding it. The Internet, tutorials, books and articles, all can help, but you need to develop business intuition and learn to combine it with street smarts.
You have to have the right timing and know how to read people. You have to work to improve yourself while staying in touch with the outside world and the trends in your industry. You have to follow your passion and learn to make positive use of your failures.
A college degree can be helpful, but common sense mixed with street smarts and an ability to understand people are the real keys to success. They don’t teach you this in college! It’s acquired by encountering different types of people in different settings and learning to read them properly.
This knowledge empowers entrepreneurs to gain the edge. Discover more secrets of entrepreneurship in my new book, All In: 101 Real-Life Business Lessons for Emerging Entrepreneurs.