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Lesson #4: Bend the Rules
Not one for doing things the conventional way, Simmons has made a career out of thinking outside the box and doing things that others never thought possible. Even the way he got his start in the business is an example of how Simmons is constantly seeking to go against the grain.
Simmons never received the university education that people said he needed to succeed in running his own business. “Yeah, it would be great if I had all kinds of education about all kinds of subjects that have to do with business,” he points out. “It’s always better to know, to have the jargon down, because it spares you from almost every kind of problem.” For instance, he said a structured education would have taught him about just how small the margins are in some businesses, like clothing. “I didn’t realize the margins were pennies. Those pennies became important.”
But, Simmons says he has managed to survive without a business degree because it has given him the freedom to try new things that he might not have been encouraged to do in school. “An MBA is helpful to anyone,” he says. “No education is a waste, but some schools and some people teach too many rules.”
Simmons suggests that a formal education can often hinder creative thinking and discourage entrepreneurs from trying new things and taking risks. “I don’t think I got an advantage from not being educated,” he says. “But I think that sometimes people, they miss opportunities because they have been taught something, or something else, and it gives them a rigid point of view.”
Simmons’ business savvy and keen sense of what will work and what won’t, comes from his early life on the streets where he was constantly bending the rules in order to survive. Transferring his survival instincts into the business world, Simmons now relies on his own experiences and street sense to inform his business ventures. He understands his target audience not because of market research but because he used to be one of them.
“I’m not in a lot of business; I’m in one business,” says Simmons. “Young American Culture.” When a colleague suggested he form a clothing company for Def Jam, Simmons relied on his instincts, which immediately told him it was a bad idea. “See, that’s why the MBA thing doesn’t matter sometimes. That’s common sense: Def Jam’s a record company; it’s not a lifestyle brand for clothing.”
Simmons also credits his yoga with allowing him to think outside the box. A passion he discovered over a decade ago, Simmons practices yoga every day regardless of where he is, claiming it has enabled him to release much of his self-doubt. And it is that same confidence that is required to join his mouth to his knees that he has used to successfully join his business ventures – hip-hop to sports drinks, celebrity to activism – when few others had even considered it, let alone thought that it could be successful.
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