Last Updated: Dec 6, 2013
Philadelphia Magazine’s ThinkFest, a gathering of local individuals sharing innovative ideas across a variety of business platforms, live streamed its main event last month. During the event, local entrepreneurs shared experiences and advice. Josh Kopelman, an investor and business advisor, talked about his belief in the advantages of a young perspective.
“Undergraduates have no idea how things should work and are not bound by any constraints,” Kopelman said. It comes as no surprise then that he himself began his first company while still in college. Kopelman talked about the Dorm Room Fund, which aids students financially to make their start-up dreams a reality.
During ThinkFest, Kopelman told a story of a young undergraduate working in an office. He tasked the student with finding a new copy machine and, sure enough, the next Tuesday, a copy machine was dropped off and installed. The following Tuesday, however, it was picked up and a new machine was delivered in its place. Kopelman said he thought the first one must have been broken. He didn’t say anything until the same thing happened a week later. When asked why, he said the student responded that since he hadn’t been given a budget, he had found 50 or so odd companies in the phone book who gave one-week free trials so he figured they would be good for a year. This story made me smile, but its underlying theme is what stuck with me: Kopelman’s point was that there is something to be said for a fresh perspective. No one with any business experience, he said, would have ever thought to do something like that.
As a college student or recent graduate, oftentimes you may find yourself as the new person in the meeting room or the seemingly “low man on the totem pole.” Everyone has to start somewhere, and the beginning is the only place to start. Being new is inevitable and gaining experience is something you obviously can only do over time. Expecting yourself to be on par with colleagues who have been working in the field for years is doing a disservice to yourself.
Understanding that you can (and will) learn from others’ experiences is an integral part of becoming a team player. Recognizing that in substance—what you know to this point from a practical standpoint—logically cannot be the same as those who have spent years practicing your craft, failing, trying, failing again, and hopefully, ultimately, excelling. Take courage in the fact that you should have mentors to guide you as you venture into your new “real world” job experiences.
But remember too that with your recent schooling comes a clear lens, one that has brought you to the company for a reason. Listen first. Reflect, research, and respond. And keep the following in mind:
- A fresh perspective can help you see things others cannot. Just as in Kopelman’s story, being a newcomer in an environment that has operated in much the same way for a long time gives you the advantage of perspective. You can see things differently than those who are knee-deep in the industry. You may notice how they are perceived by outsiders or how they may be affecting internal employee experience or future market trends. If you are a part of the ocean, you are unlikely to recognize how strong the currents may be because you have grown accustomed to them. Thus, your ability to see new opportunities as an outsider looking in can be an unparalleled advantage in a new environment.
- Being new should mean you can ask as many questions as you have. Recognizing opportunities doesn’t mean you won’t (or shouldn’t) have a plethora of questions. This is new territory for you, and you won’t find the answers in your old textbooks (as expensive as they may have been). As Oscar Wilde said, “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
Entering the workforce means diving in headfirst, whether or not you feel prepared. Oftentimes, the most important things require on-the-job lessons. These can be difficult and trying, challenging your mental toughness and your dedication to the job at hand. Like any lesson worth learning, however, the most difficult ones will bring you the most rewards. The only way you will get through these challenges is by not being afraid to ask as many questions as you need to ask. You are new. You are young. You can’t be expected to know all of the answers. So ask. Ask while you are still new and still young and still enthusiastically and desperately aching to make a change in the company. Ask until you understand. Discover answers that lead to new questions that you didn’t even know existed in the first place.
- You are a reminder that ideas, like companies and industries, must constantly grow. Kopelman mentioned young visionaries who began their successful businesses in the lowly confines of a university dorm room. In a piece for Forbes, Brock Blake pointed out these individuals as well, including Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, both 25 at the time they launched their careers, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who were 21 and 26, respectively, when they co-founded Apple.
Greg Connolly emphasizes the importance of a “growth mindset” for your workplace ventures, the concept that you are constantly growing and learning, both as an individual and a part of your professional team.
Falling into a pattern can prove fatal for a business, especially in today’s constantly moving society. Your newness brings with it the necessity of growth. Your ability to think outside the box, in that you haven’t yet been told how things should be, serves as a stepping stone to thinking how things could be—perhaps the very notion that inspired Jobs, Wozniak, Brin, and Page. You are in good company.