Friday, April 15, 2011

Luck Finds “Doers”

I was deep into a recent biography of Alexander Hamilton when I read two posts by Dilbert Creator Scott Adams.  I never was much into cartoons beyond a certain age but coinciding with the Durham phase of my now concluded career I rarely missed reading Dilbert.20090103_dilbert_25

The first post is a blog this week entitled The Education Complexity Shift .  It made some excellent points but at the expense for some readers of reinforcing stereotypes about the value of studying history.

Its value is not in memorizing dates and facts but in providing perspective and context for understanding current and future events.  Self-styled tea partiers could better hone the current meat-cleaver approach by reading beyond the events from which they took their name.

The greatness of this country rose from people like Hamilton, Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Eisenhower who understood the importance of a limited (something upon which both the left and right can agree) but robust and energetic Federal Government to paraphrase Conservative columnist and author David Brooks.

The issue we should be dealing with is about reinvigorating the Federal Government to fuel social mobility like was done with things like capital markets, public education, the homestead act, land grant colleges, canals and railroads, environmental conservation, research and the Interstate Highway system to name just a handful.

A few days earlier Adams published an funny and informative op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and well worth a read at this link.

Adams finishes the op-ed by detailing the seven important lessons below.  One of my favorites is the fourth one down, about attracting luck:

“Combine Skills. The first thing you should learn in a course on entrepreneurship is how to make yourself valuable. It's unlikely that any average student can develop a world-class skill in one particular area. But it's easy to learn how to do several different things fairly well. I succeeded as a cartoonist with negligible art talent, some basic writing skills, an ordinary sense of humor and a bit of experience in the business world. The "Dilbert" comic is a combination of all four skills. The world has plenty of better artists, smarter writers, funnier humorists and more experienced business people. The rare part is that each of those modest skills is collected in one person. That's how value is created.

Fail Forward. If you're taking risks, and you probably should, you can find yourself failing 90% of the time. The trick is to get paid while you're doing the failing and to use the experience to gain skills that will be useful later. I failed at my first career in banking. I failed at my second career with the phone company. But you'd be surprised at how many of the skills I learned in those careers can be applied to almost any field, including cartooning. Students should be taught that failure is a process, not an obstacle.

Find the Action. In my senior year of college I asked my adviser how I should pursue my goal of being a banker. He told me to figure out where the most innovation in banking was happening and to move there. And so I did. Banking didn't work out for me, but the advice still holds: Move to where the action is. Distance is your enemy.

Attract Luck. You can't manage luck directly, but you can manage your career in a way that makes it easier for luck to find you. To succeed, first you must do something. And if that doesn't work, which can be 90% of the time, do something else. Luck finds the doers. Readers of the Journal will find this point obvious. It's not obvious to a teenager.

Conquer Fear. I took classes in public speaking in college and a few more during my corporate days. That training was marginally useful for learning how to mask nervousness in public. Then I took the Dale Carnegie course. It was life-changing. The Dale Carnegie method ignores speaking technique entirely and trains you instead to enjoy the experience of speaking to a crowd. Once you become relaxed in front of people, technique comes automatically. Over the years, I've given speeches to hundreds of audiences and enjoyed every minute on stage. But this isn't a plug for Dale Carnegie. The point is that people can be trained to replace fear and shyness with enthusiasm. Every entrepreneur can use that skill.

Write Simply. I took a two-day class in business writing that taught me how to write direct sentences and to avoid extra words. Simplicity makes ideas powerful. Want examples? Read anything by Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett.

Learn Persuasion. Students of entrepreneurship should learn the art of persuasion in all its forms, including psychology, sales, marketing, negotiating, statistics and even design. Usually those skills are sprinkled across several disciplines. For entrepreneurs, it makes sense to teach them as a package.”

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