At the end of my decades-ago Wharton MBA years, I gathered my best lessons into a three-ring binder I called the Great Book of Knowledge. It cost me $21,241.89, which was the price of tuition, plus $1.89 for the binder itself.
Here are the eight lessons that have best stood the test of time. Since I was in the Entrepreneurship track, many of them came from entrepreneurs or pragmatic leaders who visited campus:
1. There are dozens of reasons why something can't be done, but perhaps only one why it can. Decide whether you are going to search for a way to do it, or regularly settle for a handy excuse.
2. Nothing stays the same. You have to be in tune with changes. Change is the norm.
3. Learn how when you have the time, so that you can do it when you have the chance.
4. Every business is show business.
5. Get as close as possible to what drives the business.
6. Invariably, there is a difference between those who carry titles on an organizational chart and the people who run the company. As soon as possible, figure out who runs the company.
7. If you can't relate to the boredom of daily chores, how can you manage people who must do them all the time?
8. A superior leader is a person who can bring ordinary people together to achieve extraordinary results. Remember this if you are lucky enough to manage a team.
You may have been surprised to find that my greatest lessons are generalities, rather than sophisticated equations for calculating, say, the net present value of a real estate deal. Equations are simple to look up, but truisms inform your most critical decisions.
For example, "get as close as possible to what drives the business" (#5), could prevent you from taking a sales job in an engineering-driven company, or from accepting a job in Denver with a firm whose headquarters are in New York.
The one thing I can tell you for certain is that time shows you what is valuable, and what is not. In my experience, the lessons you actually remember are the true gems.