Alexander F. Bouri has great respect for higher education, but like many business leaders he also understands there are some things you can’t learn at school. Here are three crucial business lessons Bouri learned only through vital, real world experience.
1. How to fail – No business person will ever forget the first time that they fail. The first collapsed deal, the first downsize, the first next-big-thing that totally falls flat—or even the first time they have to shutter a company. This kind of experience can be shattering, but it also teaches vital lessons about how to guide an idea or a company through the low points, how to get back up and push on and, most importantly, how great a responsibility you have to your staff to fight for them and for the company’s future. Of course, it is possible to fail in school, but getting a bad grade on a paper doesn’t carry the same monumental, existential punch as watching a product or business fail.
2. How to trust your instincts – This is a lesson that some business people take decades to figure out, only to wish they had learned it sooner. In this age of science and data, it can be hard to swallow the idea of trusting your “instincts”—after all, what are instincts, anyway? But the truth is that your instincts are the sum total of all your business, social, and work experience, nudging you in the right direction (or away from the wrong one) at every turn. You may not know why you don’t trust a particular funder, or a certain supplier, but if your gut is telling you to walk there’s a good chance you picked up on some small but very real cue that they don’t have your best intentions at heart. School can teach you a lot of useful information and, in many ways it prepares you well for the business world. But once you’re out there facing real competition, your instincts will be invaluable.
3. How to inspire your staff – Business management classes work best for the big picture stuff: how to choose a mission statement, how to cover your liability, how to structure a company. Creating a culture and earning your staff’s respect takes something more, however. It means being the kind of leader who has an idea and working at least as hard in pursuit of that idea as you ask any of them to do—in ways they can see and appreciate. In other words, being the kind of leader who inspires. And the way you learn that is by rolling up your sleeves and treating your staff members as your teachers.
What lessons did you learn from real world experience?