Many of today’s well-known entrepreneurs, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other tech visionaries, share one thing in common: no college degree. That should be of no surprise, because there are now more independent business owners without a four-year degree than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to a survey conducted by CNBC and SurveyMonkey.
The underpinning of the American dream is upward mobility. It happens through a combination of education, grit and a dose of luck.
But education is the operative: the defining feature of access to a good life both personally and professionally.
Today, the world moves much faster than it did even five to 10 years ago, and there’s more competition than ever. A vast majority of people will inevitably find themselves feeling like they’re falling behind if they’re not constantly investing in themselves. Or they might even feel unemployable at one point or another in their careers. This is true for many professions. A feeling of staleness can encroach as new technologies continue to be developed and implemented in the workplace, and the younger generation comes in with new skills, reshaping the modern workplace.
Learning starts at birth. At age 5, you begin acquiring knowledge and information at a formal institution and spans until age 18 when you finish high school. Some continue that journey until 22 when they finish college. But education isn’t restricted to just formal schooling. There are many ways to acquire knowledge and skill – Mark Zuckerberg has figured that out.
For entrepreneurs, lifelong learning is fundamental to long-term success. If you work at a big company, you collide with new experiences, ideas and skills. The company introduces a new technology, and you’re forced to use it. If you’re running your own business, you’re the owner, IT, marketing, HR and finance departments. Frequently, business owners will find themselves in business without the foundational skills – such as accounting, finance and marketing – and they’ll usually try to deal with it.
I rarely, if ever, hear that business owners don’t think education is important, but I’m frequently told they can’t do the training they need because they don’t have the time.
But when I reframe the question — “Do you have time to grow your business by 10%, or do you have time to prevent tens of thousands of dollars of mistakes?” or “Do you have time to reduce your odds of failure?” — the answer is invariably yes.
To be clear: Business owners have good reasons to delay their education. They need to sell, they have a critical delivery deadline or they have issues with their employees. It feels like education can and needs to be delayed. The problem is that business competitors aren’t slowing down, and the delays just compound the knowledge gap.
For example, look at what Amazon is doing with cashier-less stores. The former online bookstore has grown and changed the face of retail, expanding its cashier-less Amazon Go stores much in the same way Amazon Prime did for online shopping and delivery. Hence, if a small business retailer doesn’t have a website or hasn’t invested in innovating its products to compete with new offerings, it’s even more behind, because they’ve has opened a store right next door. And the retail giant is going to continue innovating.
Learning isn’t a moment in time, nor is it just about acquiring a set of skills or generalized knowledge.
It’s not specific to a certain domain you function in. If you’re a retailer, how are you going to continue modernizing your products? If you’re in the service industry, how do you use new technologies to communicate and coordinate with your customers better?
The most important thing a person can learn is how to learn, and it’s hard because you have to pick the subject you want to learn and teach yourself. You have to consider: What area do you excel in, and what skills do you need to shore up? This applies whether you’re 22 or 50, and whether your business is just starting out or has $10 million in revenue.