This is such a good question!
Josh, how much would you say your college education contributed to your personal wealth of business knowledge and insight? In other words if you could put a percentage on each– self-study, formal education, experience, or mentorship if any, how much do you attribute to each in your knowledge portfolio?
This is a really difficult question for me to answer. My education was not like most other people because I tailored it to what I was trying to accomplish. For example, despite being a music major attending on a scholarship that made my life much easier (though still expensive), I was in the advanced finance, accounting, and economics courses, interning at two major multi-billion dollar corporations, arranging lunches and meetings to shadow successful entrepreneurs earning, in some cases, seven-figures a year from their home office, and working as the Student Body Treasurer so I could get access to some of the more experienced members of the university and learn from their knowledge. I was also working for About.com since it was barely a startup (at least three mergers ago!) and writing my first book.
So, if someone went and did the exact same thing I did, it wouldn’t work because I created the course of study, along with several of mentors, out of thin air. It never existed before and it hasn’t existed since. I knew what I wanted: To sit in an office and amass a collection of assets that generated cash without having to sell my time to someone. That was the guiding principal. My mentors at the university, including my academic advisors, helped me craft a program to achieve that goal.
My Success Formula
I find success follows this formula:
Success = Book Knowledge + Experience + Execution
My university education was wonderful, although there were large differences between the quality of individual professors. It was one way for me to pick up both book knowledge and experience.
In terms of raw knowledge – you know, you meet me and ask me to explain how to break down the loan loss development tables of a regional bank – probably 80% of what I know in my life has been self-study. I just read more than anyone I’ve ever met, and I read specifically to acquire information. Then I work to figure out how it all relates to each other so it self-reinforces. Even in University courses, I wouldn’t rely on what was being taught in class. I’d read most of, if not all of, each textbook, and then supplement it with some of the reference texts in the notes. I’d stay late in the library reading the A.M. Best insurance manuals or browsing through old industrial guides that showed successful companies in the 1940′s.
But that 20% … it was huge. Actually seeing people do it … I remember watching a $5 to $6 billion insurance portfolio, run by less than half a dozen people, realizing that it would have taken the same staff to manage 1/50th that amount. That was a big lesson because I knew I wanted to be in scalable businesses.
Just learn everything you can that is useful to whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. Augment it with as much experience as you can. Then execute better than average. Pull that off, success follows.
I have never actually used my college education in terms of getting a job. I didn’t go because it made me employable. I graduated and immediately hired myself – or semi-retired depending how you look at it. It was the knowledge I was interested in, not the piece of paper so much.
I feel like I’ve probably disappointed you with this answer. I wish it were simple. I wish I could make it crystal clear. I just … amass knowledge in whatever form I can, as quickly as I can and then figure out how to use it, like a tool, towards whatever my personal objective is.