Lessons I’ve learned about entrepreneurship that can’t be taught in the classroom

I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. Even as a child, I was fascinated by the world of business, which appeared to offer endless opportunities to build immense structures, develop ingenious products and do things that have never been done before.

On reflection, it seems inevitable that I would pursue this path as an adult. My father, Hussain Sajwani, established DAMAC Properties in 2002 and has always been keen to immerse my siblings and me in its day-to-day operations. Indeed, some of my fondest childhood memories involve sitting around the dinner table with my family, engaged in lively discussions about real estate and the wider economy.

Don’t get me wrong, my father and the rest of my family also placed a high value on education, encouraging the younger generation to work hard in school and expand our knowledge at university. However, they understood the importance of real-world learning – a mindset that has benefitted me greatly since launching AHS Group in 2017.

I believe businesspeople require a combination of sound theory and practical experience to succeed over the longer term. So, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about entrepreneurship that can’t be taught in the classroom.

The importance of emotional intelligence

We begin developing emotional intelligence from a young age, but it’s not necessarily something that can be taught. Instead, it requires us to learn through experience – interacting with our friends and family, understanding what makes them tick and developing our capacity to communicate effectively.

In my opinion, emotional intelligence is one of the most important drivers of entrepreneurial success, and it also plays a vital role in resolving disputes when they arise.

The ability to read a room – understanding what people need and how you can help them – can only be learned through experience.

The motivating power of pressure

In the words of Henry Kissinger: “A diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure.” While education can certainly be a challenging environment, the stakes are always higher when you’re running your own enterprise.

For entrepreneurs, pressure is as certain as death and taxes. Building a business from the ground up takes grit and determination. And even as your organisation matures, the pressure doesn’t go away. The hurdles you have to overcome as a startup are simply replaced by other challenges. How to maintain quality while scaling your operations, ensuring your finances are sufficient to maintain a growing workforce, identifying new opportunities for expansion – these are all factors businesspeople have to contend with throughout their careers.

The upside is that pressure can be a great motivator, spurring you on to achieve bigger and better things. This is something you’re unlikely to learn in the classroom.

The need to prioritise

Education requires structure, meaning prioritisation is not really something you have to focus on in school. Teachers and lecturers set targets, and it’s a student’s responsibility to ensure they are met within the stipulated timeframe.

The world of business tends to be more fluid. Yes, structure remains important and there are still deliverables that are non-negotiable, but it’s up to you to decide what they are. Ultimately, you must learn to prioritise your activities based on the needs of your client base, focusing on the elements that are most likely to help achieve your company’s goals. Premium brands, for instance, put quality ahead of price, and with good reason; luxury consumers aren’t in the market for the cheapest product available.

Learning how to walk the prioritisation tightrope takes real-world practice, and you must be prepared to fall off from time to time.

The relationship between failure and innovation

Something else that is difficult to teach in the classroom is the value of failure. We’d all love to succeed at everything we do but, in reality, we learn most from the things that don’t go our way.

This is especially true in the world of business, which is why the most successful entrepreneurs tend to be those who have tried and failed multiple times before. This is why I believe failure is intrinsically linked with innovation; only by learning what doesn’t work can we create something that does.

The art of leadership

Finally, something that cannot be mastered through school or university is the art of leadership. Again, I had a huge advantage in this respect as I’ve spent my whole life observing and learning from my father.

Leading a successful team is about more than telling people what to do. While it is important to learn how to delegate effectively, it’s equally essential for entrepreneurs to inspire a passion for success among their employees, empowering them to achieve their full potential.

Paying people to do a job is one thing, but if you are able to build a team that believes in your vision and is willing to go the extra mile to achieve shared goals, the chances are that your organisation is destined to thrive.

Put simply, education plays a vital part in entrepreneurial success, but some things can’t be taught. The skills I’ve outlined take years to develop and a lifetime to perfect, and they can only be truly honed outside the classroom.


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