Recently, a business associate came to my office for an important meeting. During the meeting, I had to take a phone call, and while on the phone, I watched as my guest wandered around my office looking at the various photos and framed memorabilia that I have hanging on my walls. When I was done with the phone call, he pointed to my one and only diploma and laughed.

Before you judge his behavior as rude or offensive, let me say that the diploma he was looking at wasn't from one of our country's many fine colleges or business schools. It was from a kindergarten. It was my actual kindergarten diploma. It's the only diploma I've ever hung on any wall. It's the one that I feel gave me the skills necessary to succeed in life -- and in business.

I think much of what we learn in kindergarten can be applied directly to starting a business. Following are some tips based on what I feel were the most important lessons I learned in my critical, formative years.

Be open-minded. When we went to kindergarten, we didn't go with a preconceived notion of what our day would be like. We knew why we were there, but we were open to an infinite number of possibilities. When starting a business, understand your mission, but stay open to different ways of defining and executing it.

Be creative. Teachers give students crayons and paper, and ask the children to draw, often without specifying what they should draw. In business, the canvas is yours, too. Be creative. Be different. Think out of the box.

Know when to talk -- and when to listen. Teachers have always appreciated students who participate, yet many have an equal amount of disdain for those who don't know when to be quiet. Managing a business today necessitates being a good listener. Listen to your employees, vendors, managers, and of course, your customers. The best listeners are often the most successful entrepreneurs.

Learn how to choose a team. When playing in the schoolyard, if you were picked as "captain," you had to decide whom you'd pick for your team to ensure the highest chance of success. In business, assembling the right team is even more important than on the playground. Choose wisely so that the skills and talents of the group are maximized to ensure success.

Show respect. Respect for teachers, administrators, and other students was critical to a successful kindergarten experience. It is equally so in business, particularly at the beginning. Show respect at every level. It will bring reward beyond measure.

Give people some space. In kindergarten, if someone was building a castle in the sandbox or a tower out of blocks, it was important to back off and let him or her execute his or her vision. In business, this concept is equally important. Give associates in your organization the space they need to show you how they envision the building process.

Don't be a crybaby. Last but not least, one of the most important lessons learned in kindergarten was learning not to get upset when things didn't go your way. As your parents and teachers always preached, "life isn't fair." Neither is business. Maintaining your composure when things don't go as planned is critical to the success of any business.

It's been said that everything you need to know you learn in kindergarten, and in many respects, I'd have to say that I agree wholeheartedly. Think through the issues as a businessperson, and if that doesn't work, you just might want to climb back into the sandbox and start thinking like a kindergartner.

Published on: Feb 1, 2006