The Self Taught CEO

Many entrepreneurs are just as cavalier in an unsteady business environment as they are during boom times. When I opened my own web presence and digital marketing business last year I jumped in with both feet. Like a geek, I always enjoyed building websites, blogging and using social media.

I freelanced for a while and as I acquired more clients, I realized I was building a business. I learned skills as I needed them with the help of online courses, friends in the industry and studying successful agencies' work. I sought the information as I needed it, thereby learning it more intrinsically than if I'd tried to anticipate my needs and studied without practical application.

I was an autodidact without even knowing it. But where does this desire for the pursuit of knowledge come from?

"[Autodidactism] correlates with having had free time as a child. If kids have to amuse themselves, they learn how to figure things out and where to go to find information," said Emily Jones, head of the Putney School and an education expert. "They realize they may fail, and realize they will live through it. If the world is handed to them in bite-sized pieces, in age-appropriate adult supervised activities, they go through life expecting to be taught."

A predisposition for learning and resourcefulness provide many entrepreneurs with the ability to manage the intense learning curve that comes with starting a business with the barest fundamental skills.

My brother-in-law Hadryn Holton of True Color Painting turned to YouTube and other forums for insight on skills like flash coating drywall, sharp trim painting and refinishing wood. His approach is to study the methods of other professionals' projects online, learn about the tools, equipment and products that produce the best results, and then find an innovative way to provide superior service to his customers.

"If I had worked for someone else, and learned the trade from them, I would probably already assume I knew the best way to do things," he said. "But I educate myself on new methods and technologies for the best results, instead of continuing to do things the way I was taught they were done."

Another trailblazer is Cody Loveland, founder of LoveFab Inc., an entirely self-taught car engine fabricator who only had a welding lesson from a friend for a couple of hours 10 years ago. Now, his company is projected to earn $500,000. Their race car was one of two to finish the Pike's Peak International Hill Climb last year and the popular British car show Top Gear featured their car.

In the beginning, Loveland consulted internet forums for feedback on his custom builds and to find answers to questions about marketing from other entrepreneurs and people in the custom auto industry.

At a certain point he came up with a novel approach with respect to quality control.

"When I started, I built engines in customer's cars, and then would take them down to South Haven to the Gingerman Raceway, and test-race them to see what broke," he said.

After a few years of hands-on learning, Cody developed such an innovative and unique system, he outpaced the expertise of the communities from which he previously sought guidance. Along the way, he taught himself how to build relationships with sponsors and vendors, many of whom now help finance his Pike's Peak Race car.

This ability to quickly absorb information and synthesize it into a professional practice is invaluable in business. It keeps products and services innovative. In a sustainable business, being an autodidact and evolving your business's quality and skills is necessary for longevity.

As for Cody Loveland's take on his novel learning process?

"I'm just getting started," he said.

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