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4 things you will not learn in a business management school (and other ones)

There are a few good practices and routines that are not typical ‘hard’ business or product knowledge, yet they will give you a significant head start when setting up a new venture or start-up. They are soft skills that will increase...

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There are a few good practices and routines that are not typical ‘hard’ business or product knowledge, yet they will give you a significant head start when setting up a new venture or start-up. They are soft skills that will increase the efficiency of your communication and of your general approach to the changeable and unstable reality.

Hyper-communication

A major part of mistakes and conflicts result from lack of information. The majority of ordinary people would rather do something than say they’re doing something. This is good in theory. In theory.

The first problem is the fact that we have not handed over the information to the other person at all. However, it is often the case that even if the message has been delivered once, it must be repeated if we are to achieve our goal. It’s a bit like with commercials – in order for the advertising message to be memorized and for the consumer to make use of it while making a purchase decision, the commercial often has to be broadcast a few times in the same or slightly changed form. Because of the way our brains are constructed, the memorization process is not instantaneous. We need a strengthening of the message.

A good way of making sure whether we have been understood correctly is to ask questions. Again, we are not discovering America here but this is something that people frequently forget about.

Communication makes sense only when it is effective. And it is only effective when both sides understand each other and remember what they have said. Meetings during which we just sit and talk don’t make any sense unless one of the attendees notes down the conclusions which can later be sent over to the others. From the perspective of a person who manages a team of people, communication is one of the basic tools. A (project) manager’s tasks are mainly: communicating tasks and feedback to the employees and the client; and controlling the budget and time. As many as two most important elements are related to communication. The two remaining ones are: a calendar and Excel.

It is therefore better to communicate too much than too little.

A network of contacts

“School’s basic task is to educate”. False. Research into tertiary education institutions shows that one of the most significant life success factors is not what we have learned at school but whom we have met there. When choosing a university or an MBA faculty people often pay attention to who they may meet there. In their book “Start-up Nation” Dan Senor and Saul Singer write about how the compulsory two-years’ military service makes each Israeli’s network of contacts larger, more extensive and stronger and what a positive influence it has on the “graduates’” later career.

It is impossible to function in void. People you’ve met don’t only make life more interesting but are also eager to help out and share their knowledge with you. It is important not to treat people in a “selling” way. It is not about transactions but about relations, mutual education and support. It’s much better to have 100 people who wish you well rather than 30 whom you’ve managed to sell something. There is a saying: it doesn’t matter how many people you know, but how many people know you. This topic is discussed in more detail by Gary Vaynerchuk in his newest book “The Thank You Economy”.

Stubbornness is only good for so long

If you have opened a restaurant and two neighboring competitive businesses are constantly busy while yours has been empty for the last three months, then there must be something you’re doing wrong. You aren’t likely to teach the customer that snails for $30 are better than a burger for $10. Nor is he likely to understand that your place is nicer while the competitors haven’t had a renovation for five years. It is not the world that doesn’t understand you – it is you who is doing something wrong! We often believe in our own ideas so much that we don’t seem to be able to look at them from a distance and we take each sign of criticism as an attack on our pampered child. It is natural, yet unhealthy.

Deep down in the European consciousness, there lingers a conviction that failure is wrong, that it is a reason for shame. Meanwhile the foundation of a successful venture lies in the ability to adapt. Failure doesn’t have to be a crisis, it can be a lesson. If we approach it in a good and healthy way, if we understand its causes, we will be richer of knowledge that will enable our further growth.

Modern methodologies of building start-ups are mainly about testing out various concepts and drawing the right conclusions from failures. An idea is important because we have to know what we want to carry out but it is not a Platonic idea, a marvelous ideal, but a hypothesis that we must test out. It may not work. It may contain mistakes. What is important is to know what the mistakes lie in and to be able to draw conclusions from them for the next “iteration”, i.e. the next experiment which will bring us closer to the real product or business.

The power of follow-up

I lose count how many times I’ve caught myself ticking off a task as “done” on my to-do-list at the moment of sending an e-mail to a given person, asking them to do something. It is probably one of the most frequent mistakes of everyone who begins professional work. Unfortunately, it turns out that often the people we deal with happen to have more urgent priorities in their lives than complying with our requests, even if we are willing to pay them for this. Sometimes they forget, other times they don’t feel like doing this and they hope we will forget and sometimes technology plays tricks on us and our e-mails end up in the spam box, etc.

The simplest way to increase the chances of completing a task is to send a reminder to the given co-worker or customer. There’s no philosophy involved. It is enough to perform a weekly review of things that could be going on if a given person did something and write a reminder to those that still haven’t tackled the task. It simply works!

On the “tools” part it is enough to group all e-mails that require somebody’s reaction in one place. For example label them with a priority star in Gmail. Later it will be enough to review all the e-mails once a week, e.g. on Monday mornings, and send out reminders. In the GTD methodology there is a special category of tasks, i.e. “Waiting For”. The most important thing is to look at these tasks as our responsibility – it is our job to make sure they get done. It is us who care. Follow-up is a typical sales tool which also works in project management.

These are the things we have learned from our own mistakes. If you feel like they’re truisms – great! This means you are already using them and thus score extra points in the competitive race against those who aren’t.

photo CC craigmdennis

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