Business school comes with many benefits. The academic theories are designed to give students a broad overview of major areas in business and can be applied to several real-world problems.
But during my 10-plus years working in business and finance (much of which I spent studying and writing about risk management, history and the psychology of money), I found myself picking up on things just as quickly as those with a fabulous education in business. That’s because there are a lot of valuable lessons that can help you achieve great career success — and you don’t need an MBA to learn them.
Here are some of the most overlooked truths about business, money and life that no one teaches you in school:
1. Only work with people you like.
Warren Buffett once said at a lecture to MBA students, “If I could make $100 million dollars with a guy who causes my stomach to churn, I would say no.” I would, too. The coworkers I’ve done the best work with are rarely the smartest or the most experienced, but the nicest and easiest to work with. Much of this also explains why emotional intelligence is often more important than book intelligence.
2. Expectations can change faster than outcomes.
That’s why the most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs and investors are often in some state of, “Eh, whatever.”
3. Embrace saying, ‘I don’t know.’
People’s desire to have an opinion far exceeds the number of things that need to be opined on. “I don’t know” is a powerful phrase that should be celebrated for its honesty, not belittled for its detachment.
4. Be aware of the downsides of high intelligence.
Intelligence is great, but it can easily be muffled by four things: Ego, the inability to change your mind, the inability to communicate with others, and the unwillingness to compromise with a team. Keep this in mind at all times.
5. Never forget the hardships that led to your past successes.
This will make you stronger and more prepared for future challenges. Past success always seems easier than actually it was, because you now know how the story ends — and it’s hard to unremember what you know today while also trying to remember how you felt in the past.
6. Most complicated things have a simple explanation.
If you can’t understand something (when you were the intended audience), the person who wrote it is either bad at communicating or intentionally deceptive.
7. You can learn a lot from people you disagree with.
The ability to empathize with those who disagree with you is one of the most underrated skills. When your opinions don’t land on the same page as someone else, it’s much easier to ask, “Why would anyone ever think that?” But you’ll get farther by asking, “What have they experienced in life that I haven’t that would cause them to think that?”
8. Self-knowledge is overrated.
According to psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman, the idea that what we don’t see might refute everything we believe just doesn’t occur to us. And he’s right. Human reason, which can easily be overwhelmed by lazy biases, is more feeble than many of us would like to admit. Take this seriously and you’ll realize that few things matter more than being open-minded and surrounding yourself with people of different backgrounds and experiences.
9. There’s often a negative correlation between experience and humility.
The more experience you gain, the more you will see how vital it is to have less precision and more room for error. This is especially true in a game where we overestimate skill and underestimate luck.
10. Skill doesn’t always equal power.
It is mostly potential power. Your skill isn’t that important; what matters is your skill relative to your competitors. This is as obvious as it is overlooked, particularly in investing, when you often don’t really know who your competitors are.
11. Try to find peace and joy in losing.
Learning how to lose gracefully, without being ruined and while learning something new, can be far more valuable than learning how to be right.