Being a student always has never been more relevant to today’s business world, nor has it been more vital to success.
Rapid advancements in technology and the rise of the start-up business culture has shifted the paradigm of long-term business planning toward constant experimentation.
The old ideal of ‘adapt or die’ to succeed in the business world is itself becoming the minimum of effort, or even obsolete entirely. It’s not enough to be reactionary, success is now found farther up stream through innovation.
While questioning the status quo can certainly help give one the right mindset to be more innovative than reactionary, a students always mindset is necessary. After all, innovation and new ideas are not always successful, and by not paying the proper respects to mistakes and failures constant innovation can just as easily lead to bankruptcy.
But what exactly does it mean to be a student always? Many see it as a purely academic endeavor, an extreme dedication to one’s studies. While it has a place in academics it’s much more than that. Simply put, students always is about lifelong learning in everything one does. Yes, this includes a proper education, but it’s also about learning from experiences with other people, on and off the job and in and out of school. It’s about learning from success but even more so from failure, and it’s also about embracing and making the most out of feedback.
Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it, and that applies without question to business. Being a student always is about maximizing value extraction from success and mistakes. It’s not just about recognizing a strategy or idea that works or doesn’t, it’s about getting to the why behind those successes and failures. It’s far too common that companies don’t analyze their success. It’s easy, after all, to attribute success to personal brilliance. People take for granted their successes and rarely consider that they just got lucky or that their product succeeded for a reason completely unrelated to why they undertook that project in the first place.
Far more obvious is the value gained from learning from mistakes. It can be difficult to deconstruct failure, sometimes reliving the downfall of an idea you believed in is painful, but if you don’t ask why you failed you’ll never truly know if the idea had no merit or if success is possible by changing a key aspect of the design. Mistakes are expensive and misunderstood success can bring a high-flying company crashing down. In a world where new ideas are fueling the economy, being able to quickly recognize why something works or doesn’t can allow a business to iterate faster or come up with a new idea formulated from lessons learned through failure.
Moving on to the micro level, the students always approach to feedback can accelerate any career path. Often viewed as constructive criticism or worse, feedback tends to be avoided and can even lead to conflict in the workplace. While the way feedback is given can certainly be at fault for the high rate of aversion towards it, there is certainly a stigma attached to the concept of feedback that makes people defensive. It’s human nature to have an idealized view of ourselves in mind, or to become comfortable with our daily routines, that when anyone forces us to question what is familiar the results can be unsettling. The immediate response is to be defensive, but this is exactly where the students always mentality comes into play.
Being a student always is similar to having confidence without attitude in this respect, as it is about subverting your pride and leaving yourself vulnerable to the opinions and thoughts of others. This is not to say you need to accept those opinions as correct, but you should consider those opinions and see that feedback as an opportunity to become better. People really only give feedback for two reasons, they either are looking to help you better yourself, or they’re frustrated with your behavior and are letting you know. Either way, that feedback is telling you how you function in a team setting.
In both instances, listening to and acting on such feedback will improve your performance and chances of success. Being able to properly work on a team can earn a lot of allies in the office and plenty of success on projects, both key aspects of career success. It’s commonplace to see people in stagnant careers wondering why they are continually passed up for promotions and can’t get anywhere, they often blame others without realizing it’s them and their inability to see feedback as a gift. Only by taking the students always approach to feedback can you overcome the initial defensive response to feedback and use it to be your best.
The world is moving faster with no signs of slowing down. Efficiency is key and you can’t afford to leave anything on the table, being a student always will provide quite the advantage whether you’re running a business or wanting to stand out in the workforce.
This article is the fourth article in a five part series that focuses on culture and the Haas School’s Four Defining Principles.