James Janega of ChicagoBlueSky, part of the Chicago Tribune, posed this question with a subsequent article, “What predicts success at a startup?” Education? An MBA?
Not really. Or so he determined through various interviews of founders. Even better, he coined a great term: “humble agility.” In my opinion, Janega nailed it. What exactly IS the value of an MBA? More importantly, though, what does it take in this day and age to have success at a startup – or better yet – be a successful worker? I just turned 50 – so I am gearing this post to my age group.
For what it’s worth, I have segued in and out of the workplace as my husband and I raise our kids. I have had many roles over the years from co-founding a start-up to working in traditional, Fortune 1000-type to venture-backed fast-paced startups. I also have always worn a business development and sales hat in each role I have undertaken. I prosper in growth mode.
Today there is a new world order. In my experience, these are the rules:
- Be Humble. No one really cares whether you have fancy credentials (e.g. an MBA or Ivy League diploma). What employers really care about is your willingness to roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes to get the job done. The days of having a secretary or analyst or even office space seem to be gone; as in not returning. For the startup world, anyways.
- My experience: I have a Kellogg MBA for which I am forever grateful. That being said, the best preparation one can get for the ability to roll up one’s sleeves is good, old-fashioned sales experience. If you’ve ever had to sell/work on commission in order to pay your rent, then you will understand. Why? It’s humbling. As for rolling up your sleeves? If you are a parent you might have an advantage. Why? It, too, is humbling. I’ve spent years rolling up my sleeves. That’s what moms do. As for the MBA? It does come in handy for a mom who segues in and out of the workforce as I have over the last 25 years. I view it as my insurance policy or certificate of authenticity. My conclusion: sales experience + parent (+MBA as a bonus)= good combo for long-term employability.
- Be Agile. Be willing to roll with the punches – (and they’re moving really fast.) Stretch yourself.
- My experience: The world is moving fast. You have a choice to either watch it speed by or try to hop on board and learn along the way. Read. Practice. Our children will have +/- 13 careers in their lifetime. We cannot sit around with an old-fashioned mindset.
- Continuously learn.
- As Michael Moe often cites in his GSVCapital reports, “people need to continuously hone their skills to evolve with market demand. We describe this trend as ‘KaizenEDU’, drawing on the Japanese term for ‘continuous improvement’.” Try new tools. If I hear one more person tell me that they “don’t do social media”?! Really? How will you ever know the right questions to ask if you don’t have any first-hand experience??
- Embrace youth. Be willing to work with employees much younger than you are, whetherGenx’ers,Millennials, or even teens – embrace it!
- My experience: whether helping my college-grad daughter’s friends secure employment or working for a boss 15 years my junior – forget about the ‘experience-is-better’ adage. Sure, in life I have plenty of experience. In work I have plenty of experience. I also had assistants and analysts complete tasks for me in my “old life”; today, the younger kids are digital natives. They have good ideas, great technical skills and quite often – very disruptive and new ways of looking at old problems. Do not begrudge them; rather celebrate their youth!
In summary – and this is tough to swallow:
Get over yourself.
Go to school on me: once you do, it’s an awful lot of fun..PLUS You’ll be able to keep up with the Joneses in a whole new way!