In business, people are always struck by how ridiculous things are, pretty much every day. On the other side of that, there’s all the nervousness and neurosis and anger that people have to deal with.
What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for current and perspective MBA students?
I think that the chapter on perfecting your brand and your product, which is you, is really important when you’re young and going into the world. Young people come and see me, and I say to them, “Well, what do you want to do and what have you got?” And they say, “Well, I can do pretty much anything.” And I think are you a floor wax or a breakfast cereal? What’s the thing that differentiates you from other people? Are you a good writer or a musician? Are you sturdy or courageous? What is the thing that makes you unique?
I think the process of becoming successful in the world is finding the answers to those questions. You really have to know who you are and what you’re good at and be confident in presenting that and executing on it.
It sounds really naive and Pollyannaish, but I really think people should do what they love when they’ve got the chance and can live cheaply. Do the things that you want to do; don’t take jobs that are supposedly stepping stones and are really dead ends. Don’t go into being a broker if you really want to be guitar player – do what you want to do.
Very often people start out with a kooky idea of what they want to be and it mutates into an actual job. I began as an actor and writer and the acting has never let me down, and the writing, well, if there was one skill that makes you non-fungible in a business environment, it’s being able to write. There are literally thousands of people who can manipulate numbers, but in any organization there are literally three or four people who can actually write, who can convey complicated ideas.
What is the key takeaway from your book?
I think if you had to boil down what is in “The Curriculum,” I want to deliver strategy. A strategy is a line of thought that delivers action. This doesn’t have to be a long-term approach but rather an issue-by-issue way of looking at things.
You really need a strategy, which is why there is a chapter devoted to strategic thinking. There’s a lot of emotion, hope, friendship, and betrayal in life and business – how do you manage that? You have to have a strategy, even a bad one is better than none at all. A lot of people don’t have one; they may have a mission or value statement but those are extremely difficult to put into action. You have to try to get one, even if it’s for a haircut.