This is the second article in ‘Business Lessons from Antarctica’. Read the first article here.
“I hated school. I didn’t fit in.”
It was only the first night of the Unstoppables Delegation to Antarctica and already the confessions were flowing freely (like rounds of double-shot Pisco Sours).
Like others at the table, Greg Anderson had felt like an outsider at school. He didn’t fit within the system, so he felt like he was the failure.
You see, Greg is a restauranteur.
He’s an immediately likeable guy. He’s commercially savvy. He’s hard working.
And if you’re a foodie in Sydney, you have probably dined at his restaurant, Sails on Lavender Bay. (Yes, the one with the postcard views and those scallops.)
But the traditional school system baffled Greg.
It made no sense to him, growing up as the child of two small business owners.
Many times, he had watched his parents talk about their own commercial plans and obstacles at the kitchen table, and the wisdom from both ‘schools’ — his high school and home school — didn’t seem to correlate.
It was only after several years working in bars and restaurants, watching others succeed (and fail), did he realise that he actually had the skills and intelligence to run his own business (a message that his school teachers had failed to understand or deliver).
Among the 116 entrepreneurially-minded delegates on this trip to Antarctica, it was surprising how many had dropped out of school or university.
And the need for schools to add entrepreneurial alternatives and financial literacy to their curricula, unsurprisingly, became a recurring conversation point during the 22-hours of daylight available for discussions, black ice and whiskey. (A very satisfying combination, indeed. Image right.)
However, it wasn’t until the following unrelated conversation with serial entrepreneur and coach Ryll Burgin-Doyle, as we ascended the very windswept caldera of an active volcano, that I realised how very wrong we had all been.
(Try to ignore the gusty audio. Persist and the message will ‘sweep’ you away. Boom-chah!)
(Where? Deception Island. Weather conditions? Cold!)
If the wind was too windy and you struggled to capture the full conversation, let me summarise.
Ryll is an extremely accomplished person. However, to step in someone else’s footholes, and take the easy path, had initially felt, to her, like cheating.
In the pre-cursor to the recorded conversation, Ryll had confessed to me that, at times, she had struggled to allow herself to walk the path of others, because it felt wrong to mimic or copy.
This might sound like a noble sentiment. But, both Ryll and I (and you too, perhaps) know that this mindset is intrinsically flawed and, worse, the direct result of what we were taught at school.
I remember, in Year 10, feeling confused and unfairly treated when I was chastised for teaching another student how to complete my homework. The topic was ‘Media’, I was bored to death (finding it too easy), so I helped a friend, who was lagging behind, get up to speed, while simultaneously minimising my workload.
I outsourced my homework and gave a mate a leg-up, which, to me, seemed like a logical win-win.
However, this moment of entrepreneurial flair was, unsurprisingly, rewarded with a class suspension.
But also note how Ryll’s story ended victoriously.
Not only did she ease her path up the mountain, by cheating, but the experience gave her the energy, confidence and vision to, ultimately, break the rules and innovate. She found a shortcut and became a leader in her own right.
Great entrepreneurs cheat and they find shortcuts.
I think it was Tim Ferris, author of The 4 Hour Work Week, who said, “To be as lazy as I am, takes a lot of hard work.” Or words to that effect. (Correct me if I’m wrong, or if it was someone else, but you get the point.) Being a cheat and taking shortcuts doesn’t mean being slack and turning away from challenges and hard work. It just means that it’s not always sensible, or even sane, to do things the hard way.
Another inspirational person on the boat was Noeline Pitt, the founder of Your Future Property Management. (Check out her blog.)
Having started her business four years ago, after 18 years in real-estate, this trip to Antarctica was her first extended period away from the office and completely out of reach.
I asked her about the experience, leaving her business entirely in the hands of her staff, and here’s what she said.
Noeline provides some sound advice. She talks about systems, trust and respect. These are all essential tactics for creating a sustainable business.
But, to put Noeline’s achievements in baser terms, she simply had learnt… how to outsource her homework. (In school she would have been punished but, as an entrepreneur, she moves to the top of the class.)
Greg could not find a sense of belonging during his formal education. But he now understands that another type of education was taking place at home that, no doubt, would have contributed to his commercial success.
Ryll does her own thing and also guides others. Recently, she helped a new brand of sustainable milk gain over $2 million in pre-launch publicity. She has helped countless others cheat and find shortcuts. But even she is not immune to the harmful influences of her formal education. (I’m constantly learning and un-learning too.)
This idea that schools should add entrepreneurial alternatives and financial literacy to the curriculum, unfortunately, is flawed. It still won’t solve the problem, that is, until kids are taught to ethically cheat and find win-win shortcuts.
True? False? Right? Wrong? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
I feel a heated discussion brewing. Who has the black-ice and whiskey? Pisco sour anyone?