The Washington Post

Street smarts trump school learning in starting a business

In building the Consero Group, my event-development business, I had to overcome my education. Although my formal education provided some foundation for my work in small business, it also created key hurdles.

My legal training made me risk-averse and perfection-obsessed — both of which helped in my legal career but were liabilities in an environment demanding quick decisions and high productivity.

Three lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1 Don’t demand perfection. Producing excellent work is critical in the working world. But the pursuit of perfection can become counterproductive. I realized that the countless hours I spent making excellent work perfect could have been more valuably put to use in other ways. The risk of neglecting sales calls or employees outweighs the risk of missing that improperly italicized comma that I was trained to find.

2 Be confident in the skills that you have neglected. Educated people can lose confidence in the abilities that they were not formally trained to use. I discovered that my interpersonal skills, creativity and other good qualities hadn’t gone anywhere; they had simply been dormant.

3 Remember that your credentials stay with you. Leaving the career for which I was trained to start a small business was a terrifying experience. But that degree I pursued stayed with me, as well as on my résumé.

I am grateful for my legal education, which provided skills and knowledge that were useful in helping me launch businesses. But more important to my development as a businessman were the skills and traits that I picked up tuition-free along the way.

Mandell is chief executive of Consero Group in Bethesda.

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