What skills do I need to learn to get started?

Gregg Fairbrothers:  Eventually you will need to learn just about every aspect of business, but to get started you don’t need to learn any.  You just need to get started and you’ll learn soon enough.  Some of it you’ll learn the easy way – being told, reading, seeing it done.  The rest you’ll learn the hard way, by experience.

  1. Most people really mean, “What skills to I need to be successful?” when they ask what they need to learn to get started. You don’t need any skills to get started. You just start. But there is no end to the list of skills you need to be successful. Getting started is really the point. You’ll find there is always more to learn to be successful, so you might as well get started and learn along the way. (see above: How to Learn).
  2. To be successful with most ideas you need other people—a team and  layers of relationships extending outward from there. In that light, the first skill to learn if you don’t have it now is how to connect to good people and recruit them into your idea. Working with other people will get you started.
  3. You need to learn how to talk to customers and get them to tell you what they really think.
  4. You need to learn how to get things done without controlling the resources needed, both by yourself, and through other people. Do you know how to work with a team, to recruit, motivate, and manage people?
  5. My favorite definition of business: “human activity in which judgments are made with messy, incomplete, and incoherent data.” (Bennis, Warren G. and James O’Toole, “How Business Schools Lost Their Way,” Harvard Business Review 83, no. 5 (May, 2005): 96-104.). You need to learn to make judgments in a world of messy, incomplete, and incoherent data, and then make decisions. James Townsend, the founder of NCR, was fond of saying, “An executive is a person who always decides; sometimes he decides correctly, but he always decides.”
  6. To be successful entrepreneurially, I think the most important skills are soft skills that unfortunately are not so easy to learn. They are almost impossible to teach: how to recognize good opportunities. How to ask the right questions. How to know what you know; that is, how to assess the confidence you should have in what you find out, and how to respect the fact that there few certainties in life, and many things are downright unknowable.
  7. You need to learn the business toolkit and learn how to use it. (If you aren’t sure what that toolkit is, see the curriculum—especially the core requirements—for any good business degree or MBA.) Entrepreneurial execution means integrating these various tools appropriately, which is where knowledge and judgment intersect. That skill is what people call business experience.


Jason Freedman (Entrepreneur, blogger, and Co-Founder, FlightCaster) writes on a Brian Casebolt (Tuck 2010) question:  Is business school a good idea? A bad idea? Or…has no correlation for success or failure for a start-up?

Because of the structure and curriculum of business schools, MBAs are better trained for the later stages, when the goal is optimizing value, not finding it.   My favorite analogy comes from a commenter on Hacker News:

“I like to think of this topic using an automotive racing analogy: Fortune 500 companies are the formula 1 cars. They need a great big team to perform efficiently, and minor tweaks applied correctly can yield significant results. The MBAs are the specialists who work the electronics and the advanced controls for the race cars. A team working on a formula 1 car could find a way to increase down force by 5%, or they could install a GPS system to analyze turns and scrape 1/100s of seconds off of lap times, and that edge could help them win. Startups are cars with a very different purpose. They are project cars, and they have 1 purpose: to go. Forget GPS systems and down force. These cars need tires and a working steering wheel. It would be a mistake to think about installing spoilers on a car that doesn’t have all 4 tires, just as it would be a mistake to worry about ideal liquidity ratios in a startup. Entrepreneurs are the mechanics who decide to take on these ‘project cars’. Eventually, as the car project develops and grows, specialists (MBAs) can be brought on to find the minor, yet precise changes that will improve the car’s results.” Of course, this is not by accident. Business schools teach what the vast majority of its students need: specialist skills in large-scale optimization.  Entrepreneurship, it turns out, is a very different beast that requires a very different academic approach. This is an excerpt from humbled MBA and reprinted with permission from Jason Freedman.  Read the full post at http://www.humbledmba.com/.

One Response to “What skills do I need to learn to get started?”
  1. I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one nowadays..

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