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August 22, 2006

Ten Things to Learn This School Year

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I’m on the campus of UCSB this week at family camp, and it’s inspired me to blog about what students should learn in order to prepare for the real world after graduation. This is an opportune time to broach this subject because the school year is about to begin, and careers can still be affected. This is a list of what I wished I learned in school before I graduated.

  1. How to talk to your boss. In college, you’re supposed to bring problems to your teachers during office hours, and you share the experience of coming up with a solution. In the real world, you’re supposed to bring solutions to your boss in an email, in the hall, or in a five-minute conversation. Typically, your boss either already knows about the problem or doesn’t want to know about it. Your role is to provide answers, not questions. Believe it or not, but in the real world, those who can do, do. Those who can’t do, share with others who can’t do.

  2. How to survive a meeting that’s poorly run. Unfortunately, it could be a while before you run meetings. Until then, you’ll be a hapless victim of them, so adopt these three practices to survive. First, assume that most of what you’ll hear is pure, petty, ass-covering bull shiitake, and it’s part of the game. This will prevent you from going crazy. Second, focus on what you want to accomplish in the meeting and ignore everything else. Once you get what you want, take yourself “out of your body,” sit back, and enjoy the show. Third, vow to yourself that someday you’ll start a company, and your meetings won’t work like this.

  3. How to run a meeting. Hopefully, you’ll be running meetings soon. Then you need to understand that the primary purpose of a business meeting is to make a decision. It is not to share experiences or feel warm and fuzzy. With that in mind, here are five key points to learn about running a meeting: (1) Start on time even if everyone isn’t there because they will be next time; (2) Invite the fewest people possible to the meeting; (3) Set an agenda for exactly what’s going to happen at the meeting; (4) End on time so that everyone focuses on the pertinent issues; (5) Send an email to all participants that confirms decisions reviews action items. There are more power tips for running good meetings, but if you do these five, you’re ahead of 90% of the world.

  4. How to figure out anything on your own. Armed with Google, PDFs of manuals, and self-reliance, force yourself to learn how to figure out just about anything on your own. There are no office hours, no teaching assistants, and study groups in the real world. Actually, the real world is one long, often lonely independent study, so get with it. Here’s a question to test your research prowess. How do you update the calendar in a Motorola Q phone with appointments stored in Now-Up-To-Date? (I’ll send a copy of The Art of the Start to the first person with a good answer.)

  5. How to negotiate. Don’t believe what you see in reality television shows about negotiation and teamwork. They’re all bull shiitake. The only method that works in the real world involves five steps: (1) Prepare for the negotiation by knowing your facts; (2) Figure out what you really want; (3) Figure out what you don’t care about; (4) Figure out what the other party really wants (per Kai); and (5) Create a win-win outcome to ensure that everyone is happy. You’ll be a negotiating maven if you do this.

  6. How to have a conversation. Generally, “Whassup?” doesn’t work in the real world. Generally, “What do you do?” unleashes a response that leads to a good conversation (hence the recommendation below). Generally, if you listen more than you talk, you will (ironically) be considered not only a good conversationalist but also smart. Yes, life is mysterious sometimes.

  7. How to explain something in thirty seconds. Unfortunately, many schools don’t have elevators or else students would know how to explain things in a thirty-second elevator pitch. Think mantra (three words), not mission statements (sixty words). Think time, not money, is the most important commodity. Think ahead, not on your feet. At the end of your thirty-second spiel, there should be an obvious answer to the question, “ So what?” If you can’t explain enough in thirty seconds to incite interest, you’re going to have a long, boring career.

  8. How to write a one-page report. I remember struggling to meet the minimum page requirements of reports in college. Double spacing and 14 point Selectric typewriter balls saved me. Then I went out into the real world, and encountered bosses who wanted a one-page report. What the heck??? The best reports in the real world are one page or less. (The same thing is true of resumes, but that’s another, more controversial topic for unemployed people who want to list all the .Net classes that they took.)

  9. How to write a five-sentence email. Young people have an advantage over older people in this area because older people (like me) were taught to write letters that were printed on paper, signed, stuck in an envelope, and mailed. Writing a short email was a new experience for them. Young people, by contrast are used to IMing and chatting. If anything, they’re too skilled on brevity, but it’s easier to teach someone how to write a long message than a short one. Whether UR young or old, the point is that the optimal length of an email message is five sentences. All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.

  10. How to get along with co-workers. Success in school is mostly determined by individual accomplishments: grades, test scores, projects, whatever. Few activities are group efforts. Then you go out in the real world the higher you rise in an organization, the less important your individual accomplishments are. What becomes more and more important is the ability to work with/through/besides and sometimes around others. The most important lesson to learn: Share the credit with others because a rising tide floats all boats.

    What about freeloaders? (Those scum of the earth that don’t do anything for the group.) In school you can let them know how you truly feel. You can’t in the real world because bozos have a way of rising to the top of many organizations, and bozos seek revenge. The best solution is to bite your tongue, tolerate them, and try to never have them on the team again, but there’s little upside in criticizing them.

  11. How to use PowerPoint. I’ve seen the PowerPoint slides of professors—it’s no wonder that most people can’t use PowerPoint to sell hybrid cars when gas is $10/gallon. Maybe professors are thinking: “This is a one-hour class, I can cover one slide per minute, so I need sixty slides. Oh, and I’ve written all this text already in my textbook, so I’ll just copy and paste my twelve-point manuscript into the presentation.” Perhaps the tenure system causes this kind of problem. In the real world, this is no tenure so you need to limit yourself to ten slides, twenty minutes, and a thirty-point font—assuming that you want to get what you want.

  12. How to leave a voicemail. Very few people of any age leave good voicemails. The purpose of a voicemail is to make progress towards along a continuum whose end is getting what you want. A long voicemail isn’t going to zip you along to the end point of this decision. A good model is to think of a voicemail as an oral version of a compelling five-sentence email; the optimal length of a voicemail is fifteen seconds.

    Two power tips: First, slowly say your telephone number once at the beginning of your message and again at the end. You don’t want to make people playback your message to get your phone number, and if either of you are using Cingular, you may not hear all the digits. Second (and this applies to email too), always make progress. Never leave a voicemail or send an email that says, “Call me back, and I’ll tell you what time we can meet.” Just say, “Tuesday, 10:00 am, at your office.”

One last thing: the purpose of going to school is not to prepare for working but to prepare for living. Working is a part of living, and it requires these kinds of skills no matter what career you pursue. However, there is much more to life than work, so study what you love.

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Comments

It sounds like you've got a lot going on. There's nothing worse than the 2 hour powerpoint... blahhhh...

I’m currently working on post-grad debt, so perhaps my blog would be of interest to you.

My “adventures,” here: http://shauna26.wordpress.com/

In general I agree with what you say, however a slight terminology dispute, education is education and industry is industry. The 'real world' really is neither one thing or the other, it all depends on what you do as to what you call 'real'. At the end of the day you just have to adapt to survive the best in whichever situation you find yourself.

How do you update the calendar in a Motorola Q phone with appointments stored in Now-Up-To-Date?

Print out the N-U-T-D appts out, tape them to the Q, and someday, the NUTD appts run out.

As a non-college based, on-the-job trained professional with a couple of decades of experience it was refreshing to see what is really done, or expected. The whole cel phone/texting/(remember pagers) -even E mail, has been a waste of time and I got rid of all of them except a real phone and this laptop.
The rest of the original message is exceptionally written and helpful. But students have never shown me anything I could use while on the job, yet. Resumes don't work either, anymore. You give a kid a MAC book and they have no way of knowing how to use it to make a living, for instance. The part about co-workers is, sadly, true. A lot of the statements are true, sadly, especially about surviving. Or else you have to isolate yourself completely far enough away on a separate island so they can't try to vote you off. I actually recommend this to anyone who is smart enough to do, and enjoy it.

Under "Getting along with your Co-workers", there is one other key thing I've learned through experience and it is this:

Do not allow any individual (co-worker, boss, underling) to influence your opinion of someone else. Permit your own interactions to decide how to classify that person.

You'll be amazed at how many good relationships you can have with co-workers because you didn't listen to the bitter old guy who hates everyone who is younger than him in a position over him. Sometimes I find myself in a positive relationship with two people who hate each other's guts. Neither one will change my opinion of the other, though I really want to bang their heads together sometimes. :)

Sounds like you want to create a society of antisocial hardheaded ballbreakers. Terrible posting. Work should be fun.

Guy wrote: "...the primary purpose of a business meeting is to make a decision."

Maybe not so much. The primary purpose of a meeting is to present information about a decision (already made or to be made) or a problem. Decisions are usually reached elsewhere.

Guy,

I was just introduced to you today by a colleague who sent me a link to a video where you were talking to a group of students about the mantra V. mission statement thing. That was great stuff. Then in one of my RSS feeds someone referenced this. I love your common sense approach and only wish more people thought like you. Then maybe one day we wouldn't have to worry about the second part of # Ten.

-myke

Paul -- Really, just select the text and then choose to print the selection in your browsers' print menu. Guy - Sorry I have nothing better to do but respond to Paul, but I did greatly enjoy the post. Insightful.

Great article, thanks. But try printing it (please do!) without getting a pile of paper full of trackbacks and comments. Seriously, I tried to work the source of the page to get just a simple page with the essence of the article. No way, it's a huge complicated mess. As you rightly write, it's an art to boil things down to their essence. Give me a link to a printable page and I'm happy. Simplicity rules.

I learned to count to twelve in school. :)

Here's the link to the Fast Company article:
http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/111/open_no-satisfaction.html
He was steeped in the American business culture of not admitting, or even discussing, problems in settings like meetings.
......
"And Mr. Cho kind of looked at me. I could see he was puzzled. He said, 'Jim-san. We all know you are a good manager, otherwise we would not have hired you. But please talk to us about your problems so we can all work on them together.'"

Wiseman says it was like a lightning bolt. "Even with projects that had been a general success, we would ask, 'What didn't go well so we can make it better?'" At Toyota, Wiseman says, "I have come to understand what they mean when I hear the phrase, 'Problems first.'"

It's another cliché that is powerful if you take it seriously: You can't solve problems unless you admit them. At Toyota, there is a presumption of imperfection. Perfection is a fine goal, but improvement is much more realistic, much more human. Not a 15% improvement by the end of the quarter, a 1% improvement by the end of the month.

WRT to number 1 about bring solutions not problems.

That's typically how business works. But it's not necessarily good. Many problems are complex and resistant to a single individual being able to identify/implement a full solution.

Toyota interestingly does not operate that way.
They want you to bring problems you don't know how to solve to a group setting. Solutions often come from unexpected sources. Unanticipated linkages and connections are identified. I believe there was an article in Fast Company about Toyota's use of this approach.

Toyota has been extremely successful using this philosophy. But then again they don't appear operate on the assumption that the function of the worker is to make the bosses life easier.

Great Post! Being a year and a half out of college, I believe that schools really should teach these skills as a senior level class.

Eliot Dill
http://selfmade.eliotdill.com/what-to-learn-this-school-year-to-prepare-for-business/

Can someone explain to me what exactly does "no matter what accomplishment you make,somebody help you"mean?

Ahhh...Thanks for this. Fog is clearing, anxiety is subsiding. So...I'm not the only one.

Your post was dead on. As someone that has focused on helping others in this transition between school and the real world, Creating the Graduate Survival Guide (complimentary copies at http://www.gradsurvival.biz/get_book.php) and GradSurvival.com, I thought your post was helpful for every new businessperson.

Hi Guy,

I had to laugh when I read your poll. When I entered the workforce there was no such thing as email or PowerPoint, and we were all still using typewriters. It was 1983 and there were a few Apple IIs around the office for crunching numbers with Visicalc.

Anyway, great list. BTW, Tina Seelig, the Exec Director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, gave a great talk recently on a similar subject - "What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. I've posted the audio and write-up here. I think you would find it apropos.

Great blog Guy. I have just "retired" from the corporate world to pursue my creative dreams and was having flash backs galore while reading this. Excellent stuff!!

To add to Jeremy Frains comments:
Those who can't teach or consult, critique.

Cheers.
I'll be coming back here.

I didn't like the article a whole lot, mostly because I didn't think these ten things were of particular value.

On the other hand, the article was worthwhile to me, because it did prompt me to think about what I thought was important to learn, and was not being taught in schools.

You may be interested in this list and discussion, which is available here: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2006/08/things-you-really-need-to-learn.html

-- Stephen

I loved this post Guy.
I spent 25 years in the real world of software marketing and I attended so many meetings that weren't run properly. I listened to so many run-on voicemails and read so many long documents. I also worked with/for some yucky people and it was very hard for me not to "tell it like it is". I left a job once after 12 years because I couldn't have a converstion with my new manager. I would be talking about sales and he would be talking about Deepak Choupra. I kept wondering - am I the only sane one and is every one else crazy? The answer was "yes", by the way. Eventually, after I quit they saw that they were going nowhere with this guy as the CEO! Too late for me though...
Happily, I am out of the corporate jungle and happily ensconced in my home with my laptop, doing a different kind of marketing today...
Zei Gezundt
Dena
http://beginners-make-money-on-internet.blogspot.com/

Re: Academia vs. "the real world"

Academics do live in "the real world." I get paid real money to teach real people real concepts. And yes, I have used my real education to work in business and nonprofits, as well as academia.

To commenters slinging around the term "real world": please don't dismiss my work as somehow less than "real."

Love this post, Guy.

Do I smell another book coming, sir? If not, you oughta think about one. Expand the list to 77 things we oughta be taught, and there you go.
Happy to give you a few extras to add to the list if you like.

Going to talk about this post in an upcoming post at http://www.DreamJobsDialog.com.

Regards,

Michael

PS Was really surprised to see some of the "hate mail" you got on this topic. Not sure I see why/where it was coming from. You do great work; stay the course.

Now up-to-date to Motorola Q

PocketMac's site says Windows Mobile 5 (OS of Motorola Q) will be supported soon.

An already available solution (as of 27 July) is markspace.com Missing Sync for Windows Mobile, v2.5.1 :

http://www.markspace.com/missingsync_windowsmobile.php

There is a specific limitation for Motorola Q (check the supported devices list) if you want to connect via bluetooth, but USB should work just fine.

Alex

The 11th and 12th are bonus points and are there for those who may think the first 10 points have a point or two not so much useful - then the last 2 points will make up to make the title; and they are there to differentiate those who have potentials to be auditors.

I think some points are valid and some are only applicable depending on your environment.

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