When I was in college I had no idea what courses to take, because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. My dad told me “Learn as much as you can, about as many different subjects as you can, because the job you’re going to have 10 years from now hasn’t been created yet.” My dad was really smart, so I followed his advice.
Now, some 50 years later, after my career has shifted more times than I care to count, I’m still learning as much as I can about as many different subjects as I can. I became an entrepreneur. I work with companies of all sizes, in all different types of industries. I manage a team of executives that have created and managed their own teams. There was no way I could have anticipated that I would own my own company, and have a team as exceptional as the one I now have.
I’ve worked for large companies and small ones, worked in marketing, sales, IT and warehouse operations, directed finance and accounting departments, HR, office services, and temporary staffing. I bought insurance, borrowed money, wrote, negotiated and signed contracts, made decisions on purchasing equipment and buying companies. If it sounds like I’m just naming every possible job that a manager or executive could have, I’m not. I did all those things, and more.
How could I possibly have been effective at all those jobs? The answer is that I never stopped learning. I became a sponge. I was the annoying guy at the conference table that asked too many questions. I acted like my five-year-old grandson who asks “why” to every answer. Knowledge doesn’t come just from reading books, attending seminars, going to college and getting multiple degrees. It also comes from talking to the IT technician, the warehouse worker, the guy that repairs the copier. It comes from that new employee who worked in a totally different industry.
When I work with start-ups, I tell them, “when you start a company, you wear 25 different hats, and your first job is to get rid of as many of them as you can.” The secret is to delegate everything you can, so you end up doing the things that only you can do. But there’s a second part. You can’t delegate what you don’t understand. You still direct all of those activities. You need to ask the right questions to ensure that the right decisions are being made.
Those decisions will impact the entire company. You may not be pulling the wagon anymore. But you still tell it which way to go. You must keep learning – every day of every year. As industry changes, as markets move, as customers decide, you need to be able to move with them, or you will disappear. The only way you’ll know how to make those changes is to keep asking “why.”
So keep learning, because the business that you’re going to lead 10 years from now hasn’t been created yet.