Knowing what to learn

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I never went to business school and I never studied economics. At the time when I was choosing what to study, it was never even an option that crossed my mind. There was no future where I could see myself working with that sort of thing.

Just a few years later, I was running my own company and I realized that some of those courses might have been good after all. It didn’t primarily come from an urge to deep dive into the balance sheet, but from understanding my clients and the world that they were in. Because they had been to business school. And they referenced things that I didn’t really understand. Had I taken a few courses in economics, it might have been easier to relate to them.

After many of these meetings, I thought to myself that maybe it wasn’t so much about the specific business terminology but more a general sense of context. What mattered to the clients was what they were reading and talking about. So while I was commuting between Malmö and Stockholm, I made a habit of reading Dagens Industri – the Swedish business newspaper. I tried to read more or less everything in it (even when the articles made no sense at all – which was fairly often), and to read it every time I got the opportunity.

Months of reading Dagens Industri later, things were beginning to make sense. I still had to Google what a hedge fund was on numerous occasions, but it was starting to fall into place somewhat. The turning point was a meeting with a new potential client. It was going pretty badly until I referenced an article from Dagens Industri that I had read earlier that morning. I saw the change in the client’s eyes straight away. It was as if I was suddenly one of them – someone in the know. Of course I wasn’t really, but I had apparently learned enough to be able to have an informed conversation. The meeting changed at that very second and went well.

The point here is not to say that the only thing you learn in business school is to talk about hedge funds. I know this isn’t the case. The point is that what was difficult for me wasn’t to learn the business stuff – it was understanding what it was I needed to learn to progress. That context mattered and that stepping into the lives of my clients really helped in bridging a gap of communication and faith.

There are many ways of learning things. Knowing what you need to learn though – that seems to be an everlasting challenge.

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