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Don't Get Hung Up on the Degrees

Last Thursday I spoke at the the Phoenix Enterprise Network about buying your own business, a topic I discuss in more depth here.  The audience was pretty full, not for me, but in expectation of Sharon Lechter of Rich Dad, Poor Dad fame.  Since Ms. Lechter and her partner Robert Kiyosaki have become the chief evangelists of starting your own business, a lot of people were there who were interested in that topic.

I found that for at least one reason, I was probably the wrong person to speak at this function.  Many people in the audience seemed fixated on my Harvard MBA and felt intimidated that somehow they were under-qualified or undereducated to be entrepreneurs. 

I tried as hard as I could to convince folks that everything I learned at Harvard was virtually useless for running a small business.  I told them (truthfully) that my Harvard diploma hangs in my laundry room, since that was the only thing I really learned to do well at school.  I emphasized that knowledge and passion about the business you want to start is much more important, and that everything else could be learned.  Night courses in certain areas could help, and I would focus on two areas:

  • accounting:  it is always good to know accounting.  It is never good to entirely trust someone else with the books.
  • marketing and competitive advantage:  the one "framework" that still serves me well from my MBA is that I never look at an idea or business without asking what I am going to do with it that is different than competitors. 

In reality, the Harvard sheepskin on my wall actually hurts me running a small business as often as it helps me.  For example, many of my employees when they first work for me seem intimidated by the degree, and assume I must know everything and therefore they are afraid to raise concerns or share ideas.  Any of my managers who read this will probably laugh, because most have gotten some version of my speech on this topic:

DO NOT assume Warren has a secret plan or brilliant idea on any subject that he has not told you yet.  Assume that if you have not heard from Warren on a topic, he either has no clue there is an issue at all or else he has no idea what to do.  Therefore, do what you think needs to be done, and call Warren if you need help.

By the way, if you are in the Phoenix area, the Enterprise Network not only has one of those exceedingly rare and valuable two-letter URL's, but it is a great group if you are an entrepreneur or you business sells to entrepreneurs.

Posted on January 23, 2005 at 09:46 AM | Permalink

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