Steve Imke, Chapter 206
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Recently I was asked to participate on a panel to speak about entrepreneurism and evaluate business proposals prepared by college students enrolled in the Bachelor of Innovation program at UCCS. The request caused me to wonder what I, a person with no formal business education, could offer a college student who has attained nearly four years of higher education focused on business and entrepreneurism.  As I attempted to carve out a unique lesson from my own personal business history, a rather profound idea surfaced that I think gets to the heart of business success and which can’t be taught in any school.

In nearly every language except English, “to know” is described by at least two different verbs based on how the knowledge was gained and on the depth of one’s understanding. In German there is wissenschaft, which is knowledge gained through secondhand sources such as by reading a manual or textbook or by listening to a lecture. Then there is kenntnis, which is knowledge gained through firsthand personal experience. To amplify this point, wissenschaft knowledge is like reading a recipe from a cookbook and looking at the pictures of the finished dish and trying to commit it to memory for recall later when you need it. Kenntnis knowledge is like actually preparing a dish to internalize the procedures and techniques necessary to prepare it. By physically preparing the dish, you create a deeper degree of understanding that can more easily be recalled later and applied to future recipes, increasing your general understanding of cooking as a whole.

In my own personal business experience, I learned about budgeting, finance and managing people by doing it in a Fortune 500 company. I began as an individual contributor and worked my way up the corporate ladder to line supervisor, then cost center manager and finally site manager. While still employed by this company, I indulged my entrepreneurial spirit by operating an invisible fencing franchise where I learned about marketing and salesmanship. While I made a lot of mistakes operating the fencing business (which ultimately was not a successful venture for me), none of my mistakes were catastrophic financially since I still had my day job. In essence, this step was just another slug of firsthand business experience. When the time came to leave my corporate job and step out on my own, the business experience I had gained through kenntnis knowledge created a sound structure that helped pave the way for my future business success.

The takeaway point is not that secondhand knowledge such as book learning (wissenschaft) is bad, but that knowledge gained by experience is absolutely vital to business success. As I suggest to many of my clients who have no firsthand business experience, experiment with a small or non-employer-based business such as an Internet business before launching your ultimate business. Knowledge gained through real-world firsthand practical experience (kenntnis) will become the structural framework upon which all other knowledge—some gained through wissenschaft—can be built. Therefore the takeaway point is this: Build a solid base of kenntnis knowledge and experience before you dive into the deep end of the pool.