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OWNER'S MANUAL

5 Things to Un-Learn From School

You spent a lot of time getting an education. But if you want to make it as an entrepreneur, it's time to forget some of what you learned.
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You spent a lot of years in school. You learned a lot.

Some of what you learned you need to un-learn as soon as possible. Here are five key attitudes you should adopt instead:

1. If you only do what you're told, you'll excel.

I know. School was hard.

But not that hard.

If you did what you were told--go to class, do the reading, turn in assignments on time, etc.--you could get As. Initiative was not required and, in fact, was often frowned on.

Now--whether you work for someone else or run your own business--doing what you're told makes you average. Not superior, not excellent... just average.

To be above average, or to achieve better than average results, you must do two things:

  1. Do what others are willing to do, and do it better, and
  2. Do what others aren't willing to do

Otherwise, you're just average.

2. Being micro-managed is to be expected.

Sure, you felt overly-controlled in school: Dates, timelines, rules... not to mention the seemingly arbitrary policies and nonsensical assignments. You saw graduation as the day you would finally have more freedom.

Nope.

In school you paid people to criticize, direct, and at times micro-manage you. Now you're the one getting paid... yet you somehow don't feel it's fair that investors, partners, or customers can dictate what you do, sometimes down to the smallest detail?

Don't expect someone to trust you to perform a task or service–and give you money to perform that service–until you've proven you can be trusted to perform that service.

Then, once you've proven your skills, if you still feel micro-managed it's your responsibility to change the situation. Communicate before you are communicated to. Answer questions before questions are asked. Demonstrate your value before you are asked to prove your value.

No one wants to micro-manage you. They have better things to do with their time.

If you're being micro-managed it's probably because you need to be.

3. Your time off is the highlight of the year.

You may have forgotten your mom's birthday, but I'll bet you knew the exact day every semester ended and the start and end of Spring Break. And you lived for snow days.

So it only makes sense to see weekends and vacations as the highlight of your working year, right?

Actually, no: If you feel you endure the workweek just to get to the payoff of the weekend, you're in the wrong business. Find work you enjoy; then you won't see time off as a chance to finally do something fun but as a chance to do something else fun.

While you'll never love everything you do in your professional life, you should enjoy the majority of it.

Otherwise you're not living–you're just working.

4. Getting criticized means you failed.

Here's another pay/paid dichotomy. In college you paid professors to critique your work.

So now that you are the one getting paid, why is it unfair for someone--like a customer, investor, or key partner–to critique your work?

It's not.

When you get negative feedback, see it as an opportunity. Think, "Wow, I didn't realize I wasn't doing that right. I didn't realize I wasn't doing that as well as I could."

Criticism is a chance to learn--and this time you're getting paid to learn.

Never complain when someone pays you to learn.

5. Success is based on toeing the line.

Say you disagreed with a professor's point of view on a particular point. You may even have been right... but the only way to get an A in the class was to parrot the professor's take on the subject. Except in rare cases, confirming and following the rules was everything.

In business, conforming only ensures that you will achieve the same results as other people.

If you want to achieve different results you'll have to think and act differently. Do your homework, think critically, and don't be afraid to create your own path.

But don't be different just for the sake of being different. Be different because it's who you are and what you believe... and because it will get you where you want to go, with your integrity and your sense of self intact.

IMAGE: Flickr/Oriolus
Last updated: May 25, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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