You’ve probably heard the expression that some things are learned from experience dozens of times. But what does that mean? And what are these things? Some college friends and I caught up recently and one of them brought up that we have now spent more time in “the real world” than we did in college (which is only 4 years for Bachelor’s degree holders). It happens sometime around the age of 26–29 unless you are pursuing a doctoral degree. Since this is a good point to reflect on what skills are important in getting your “real life” degree, here are a few that stand out that I wish I had known about when I started working. Some of them are also important in school, but the degree to which they can make or break you in real life is staggering.
- Curiosity — This affects all aspects of your work and life performance. If you are curious about the people around you, your company, your industry, and the people you serve, it becomes much easier to become excited and interested in your career. This naturally motivates you to go further so you can better serve the people that your work affects. These are not just your immediate colleagues, but also your customers, partners, and other stakeholders that are indirectly affected. Having the curiosity to learn more will also reveal to you whether a particular industry or workplace is interesting to you. In today’s world of instant gratification, it’s the highly sought after curious specialist that knows the industry inside and out who stays competitive. You don’t have to look further than Warren Buffett or Ken Thompson, who invented the Go programming language at age 66 and continues to help maintain it.
- Innovation — Sir Ken Robinson has been a vocal critic about the lack of creativity fostered by today’s schools. His famous TED talk actually tells us that we become less creative with more schooling. Yet, today’s information economy is powered by innovation in technology and new business models. It’s no longer enough to just learn and regurgitate the material on a test. To go further, you must think differently and apply your skills to solve a problem creatively. Not all environments appreciate innovation, but even applying modest amounts of creativity to solving a new problem can help you find solutions that didn’t exist before.
- Communication — Today, all meaningful work occurs in teams. People collaborate with each other today more than ever. Interpersonal skills and communication are at the heart of creating a collaborative, comfortable environment. The hard part about communication is that there are many ways to do it. Even not communicating is a form of communication. Roughly, though, there are three main ways: writing, speaking, and being present through body language. All three are approximately equally important and each have their place — for high stakes, important things it’s best to be present in person. For most other situations writing and speaking can fill in the gaps.
- Persistence — This is often the key differentiator between successful execution and unsuccessful execution. By their very definition, the hardest things that are worth doing are going to take a large amount of effort. Effort can sometimes be concentrated with a larger intensity into a shorter period of time. Most of the time, though, this doesn’t work. Warren Buffett phrases it best when he says “you can’t expect to make a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.” With persistence, you get nine times the expected reward after a bit of waiting.