Today I'm sitting on a panel at Earlham College where we'll talk some about the world of business and money-making in the context of an Earlham education. As a part of preparing for it, I was thinking about how my time at Earlham, and my relationship with the College since, has informed my experience in the business world.
Here's a list of 5 business values that I think I learned via Earlham College:
- You can do good and still do well. While it hasn't been as black and white as Mark and I may have thought it would be when we started Summersault, we have found that it is generally possible to make ethical decisions and still make money. When you do make ethical decisions and still make money as a result, it tends to feel better than other approaches.
- It's okay to fail. Traditional business culture sometimes tells us that failure is to be avoided at all costs (see: AIG bailout). I've learned that experiencing failure - even deep, gut-wrenching, not-sure-I-can-do-this-anymore failure - is an important part of learning how to succeed, and while it may be difficult and even embarrassing to fail, it doesn't have to be shameful.
- Honesty and integrity is always the best policy, and isn't to be taken for granted. I know it's a bit cliche, but we're still surprised at how often we encounter forms of dishonesty in the business world - through outright lies, subtle omissions, or other tactics - and so I try not to take it for granted when we meet someone - a client, potential employee, or vendor - who is honest through and through. By the same token, no matter how difficult or awkward a business situation is, I've found that being brutally honest and taking responsibility for my part is the only way to get through it with integrity and relationships intact.
- You don't have to detach yourself from the humanity of doing business. Businesses are just groups of people sharing in some common activity or mission. Those people have emotions, flaws, difficulties, struggles, nuanced joys and irrational, complex driving forces in their lives. You can't run a business and expect to ignore or detach yourself from these considerations, and in fact you may have a much better experience if you embrace them.
- The universe will have its way. Some people think that good business is all about controlling every last detail of every process involved. Believe me, I've tried that, and it doesn't work - the universe will throw things at you that you cannot control, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes you don't know. The alternative to trying to control everything that seems to work is to do really good planning, and then be ready to adapt and change (sometimes dramatically in a short period of time) and try not to take it personally.
Not all of these things were taught directly by Earlham (the panel today is in part to help convince students that it's OK to make money - only at a small liberal arts college 🙂 ), and maybe I've even figured some of them out in spite of my time there (I majored in Computer Science, not Management). I'll also note that I'm not by any means claiming to be perfect at living out these values all the time! But I'm confident that had I not had that educational context and transformative four years, I would be a much different kind of businessperson today.