Whatever we do in life, we know that the success we gain will be linked to the effort and the preparedness that we bring to the activity.
Planning and getting the necessary time and resources, and then executing with conviction and energy are the route to achievement.
I think it is fair to say that anyone would see that as an obvious statement. But the attitude that we bring along with us, in the classroom or the workplace, says a lot about how seriously we take these principles.
Quite a few years ago, I applied to join a management learning course at Harvard Business School. It is a famous institution, and so the course was popular.
But, I had completed my MBA, and started or co-founded businesses that were doing well, and had years of experience behind me. Also, the course was not cheap. I had no doubt at all that my application would be accepted.
I have to admit that I was surprised when the detailed application forms came back to me, and I was asked a question I did not expect.
Not about my experience or qualifications exactly, but something harder to define: what, they asked, would I be bringing to the course?
The question made my eyes widen. I would be paying for the course – surely it was for them to convince me that it was worth it?
All of us have an ego to some extent, and after achieving certain things in life, perhaps we no longer expect to have to justify our worth.
But this question was an important and sudden reminder of the importance of humility. In professional training, higher education and other areas of learning, there is a great opportunity to benefit from the experiences of your classmates.
The academic cohort is a resource that can be just as important as the course materials and the professors. My place was not just for my benefit, but should benefit all.
It didn't take long to find some business experiences and consider the cultural context also of my participation in the course, that others might find interesting or useful.
I joined the course and benefited from it greatly – including from my fellow participants. But the lesson that stuck in my mind most readily was from that first application: what do you bring?
It is a question now I ask myself often. Is there someone I can help; something I can share? Not as someone who knows it all, but as a contributor to a broader discussion that can lead to new understanding. Sometimes just to start a train of debate that will prove me wrong!
Maybe just as importantly, this experience made me think about the less useful things we do.
Posting on social media, forwarding a WhatsApp message, gossiping perhaps. What is it we are bringing and contributing? Is it honest and authentic, and the best we can do?
In these trivial things, maybe the most useful thing is to skip it!
Wherever we work or study, or in our social groups, we affect those around us. It is always worth reflecting humbly on what we are bringing along to exchange with our peers.