Business Success: Book Smart or Street Smart?

Billionaire-TV celebrity, Donald Trump based his award-winning series The Apprentice on the premise of the nature-versus-nurture debate. Will the ultimate apprentice he selects prove that street smartness triumphs over academic intelligence? That’s where the politics plays out in the challenges and dysfunctional team dynamics. Having business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit, is relevant to a staff as it is to an entrepreneur.

Here is an essay that may, perhaps, be useful for undergraduates and working mid-lifers who are seriously contemplating a career change or reconfiguration. When we creatively extract life lessons from abstract topics like sports, we may discover more than meets the eye. Here are some useful lessons that you can use to prepare yourself for your future employ.

1) Have a plan. Make it clear for you. Make a life-chart that is large, colourful and noticeable. Anthony Robbins wrote his first plan behind a roadmap- a map upon a map! Stick pictures of places you wish to visit, and things you’d like to have. Add a Bucket-List while you are it.

2) Write up a SWOT Analysis of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Update this regularly as you become more knowledgeable and skillful. The idea is to become strong, empowered and re-inventive, so as to stay relevant in the marketplace for as long as you desire.

3) Build your Personal Branding. What are your values, beliefs, preferences, prejudices and perceptions about people, work and recreation? How do you build your credibility? How do you build your reputation that stands you out, with distinction, and what are your signature moves?

4) Learn and apply your skills. Develop mastery in some skills. Exceed yourself. Test your skills daily. Take on a measurable challenge. Chinese undergraduates run a marathon to have an edge towards qualifying for the top universities. Train for your job interviews. Answer questions clearly with no hesitation. Learn independence. Learn to assemble a DIY cupboard, replace a light-bulb, wash your sports-gear, sun your shoes (before it pongs) or cook a simple meal for yourself.

5) Attempt and attain dynamic work-life balance. Eventually, this will make way for work-life choice (a term popularized by ex-GE CEO Jack Welch) as priorities shift and change.

6) Develop your soft-skills. Be persuasive. Be influential. Lead. Be a leader. Assume responsibly key leadership positions in university or the polytechnic.

7) Surround yourself with experts. We stand on the shoulders of giants! Learn from the old and young. Be curious. Discover your ignorance and ingenuity. Value discipline. Discipline means doing the chores, and enjoying the process however mundane it may be.

8) You will make mistakes! Nobody’s perfect. There are enough fallen leaders to remind us of the fallacies of leadership. Value your values. Walk your talk, and be consistent. How you bounce back from failure is your resilience. Snap back, re-focus and get back on track.

9) Either you lead, or follow. The choice is available at all times. You can be a servant and a leader. Lead and serve. Lead to serve. Be in the service of your team. Serve them well. If you won’t lead, treat people humanely well, at least.


A former, international executive in a multinational corporation I now lead and manage my international leadership and consulting firm. I deliver a daily blog on leadership where I share the best practices of effective leaders from various industries, and professions ('Leadership Lessons from Triathlons'). I model the success strategies of these industry and business leaders and present them for education and reflection. As a motivational leader and leadership consultant, I focus on values-based...

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