What is the Best Business Education? Run a Marathon (Transcript)

Andrew Johnston

Full text of What is the Best Business Education? Run a Marathon by Andrew Johnston at TEDxYouth@MileHigh conference.

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TRANSCRIPT: 

As a business instructor at a community college, one of my favorite courses to teach is Intro to Business. It’s one of my favorite courses because in this class I assign the students a company project. In this project the students go out, they find a small business, they meet with the business owner, and then they share with their classmates key technical information about the business. Information such as: what’s the company’s product? How do they price their product, how do they promote their product?

It’s a great assignment because it really brings to life all the technical theory that the students have been reading about in their textbook. But you know what the biggest insight is from this assignment, you guys? The biggest assignment is when the students share with their classmates what the single biggest piece of advice the business owner has for a young person starting their business career. You know what that biggest piece of advice almost always is?

Before I tell you what it is, let me first tell you what it’s not.

Business owners are telling my students that success in business is not about being an expert at writing pivot tables in excel. They say it’s not about being a jockey at the ten key calculator. They say it’s not about being able to recite accounting regulations, no. Instead, what business owners are telling my students the key to success has everything to do with the development of this: character, life skills, things like passion for your work, work ethic, persistence, determination, and good old fashioned grit. That’s what business owners are saying is the key to success for a young person starting their business career.

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How do you teach grit? How do you teach these life skills? Some schools are trying to teach it through self help books and seminars. Here’s the problem with self-help books and seminars: they don’t cut to the chase, they don’t force the student to actually apply what they’re reading about in the textbook. It’s all theory. It’s like if I want to learn to ride a bike. I could read a book about riding a bike, I could watch a video about riding a bike, but until I’m actually on the bike pedaling, and braking, and ringing the little bell on the handle bars, have I really learned how to ride a bike? I don’t think so.

Again, how do you develop these skills? How do you develop the skills to develop the resilience to keep going when life circumstances, and maybe even the people all around you are telling you to quit? That’s just the question my colleagues in the business department, two years ago, and I asked.

In 2013, we launched a new class called “Change through Challenge.” The premise of change through challenge is very simple: all the life skills that I mentioned, persistence, determination, grit, all these life skills can be acquired and mastered through the power of training for a marathon.

Guess what the final exam is in this class? A 26.2 mile marathon.

Why a marathon? Because a marathon gets to the heart of the matter. Because a marathon doesn’t goof around. Because training for a marathon is the perfect vehicle for teaching all these life skills that business owners are saying is the key to your success in business and in life.

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