What Is the Value of Experience as an Entrepreneur?

Not too long ago, I was asked to participate on a panel to speak about entrepreneurialism and evaluate business proposals prepared by college students enrolled in the Bachelors of Innovation program at a local college. The request got me thinking – What could I, a person with no formal academic education, offer to a college student who has attended nearly 4 years of higher education focused on business and entrepreneurialism?

I thought about my own personal business history in an effort to carve out a unique lesson to share. While thinking, a rather profound idea surfaced that I think gets to the heart of small business success which can’t be taught in any school.

In nearly every other language except English, the idea “to know” is described by at least two different verbs based on how the knowledge was gained and the depth of one’s understanding.

In German there is “wissenschaft,” which is knowledge gained through secondhand sources such as by reading a manual or textbook or perhaps listening to a lecture. Then there is “kenntnis” which is knowledge gained through firsthand personal experiences.

To amplify this point, wissenschaft knowledge is like reading a recipe from a cookbook and looking at the pictures of the finished dish and trying to commit it to memory for recall later when you need it. Kenntnis knowledge is where you would actually prepare the dish to internalize the procedures and techniques necessary to prepare it. By physically preparing the dish, you create a deeper degree of understanding that can more easily be recalled later and applied to future recipes, adding to your general understanding of cooking as a whole.

As I reflect on my own personal business experience, I learned about budgeting, finance, and managing people by doing it at a Fortune 500 company. I began as an individual contributor and worked my way up the corporate ladder to line supervisor, then cost center manager, and finally site manager.

While still employed at this company, I indulged my entrepreneurial spirit by operating an Invisible Fencing franchise where I learned about marketing and salesmanship. While I made lots of mistakes operating the Invisible Fencing business, which ultimately was not a successful venture for me, none of my mistakes were financially catastrophic since I still had my day job. In essence, this failed step was just another slug of firsthand business experience.

When the time came to leave my corporate job behind and step out on my own, my business knowledge gained through kenntnis created a sound knowledge structure that helped paved the way for my future small business success.

The takeaway is not that secondhand wissenschaft knowledge (such as book learning) is bad, but that knowledge gained by actual kenntnis experience is absolutely vital to business success.

As I suggest to many of my clients with no real firsthand business experience, experiment with a small or non-employer based business, such as an internet business, before launching your ultimate business.

Firsthand knowledge gained through real world kenntnis experience will become the structural framework that all the other knowledge learned (some gained through wissenschaft) can be built upon. Therefore, the takeaway is to build a solid kenntnis knowledge through firsthand experiences before you dive into the deep end of the pool.

Do you have a solid knowledge based on kenntnis?

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