A GMAT Lesson from Entrepreneurship: Mistakes Are the Way Forward
Recently, the Ready4 team had the pleasure of receiving to our office Dr. Edward Roberts, one of MIT’s many distinguished professors, and the man who literally wrote the book on tech entrepreneurship. As a serial entrepreneur and angel investor, Dr. Roberts was an early investor in Ready4 and Ready4’s first product, Ready4GMAT. He stopped by our office to share his story and some of the lessons he’s learned in his 58-year career of researching and practicing entrepreneurship.
Success’s blind side
As it turns out, there are several useful parallels between starting a company and studying for the GMAT. Paramount among them is how entrepreneurs learn. Though no entrepreneur wishes failure for his or her venture, entrepreneurs learn and grow more from their mistakes than from their successes. Success can act as an intoxicating smokescreen that masks exactly why the success occurred and passes off false assumptions as true. Even more perniciously, success creates little incentive to understand it. Companies that experience early success often struggle to pinpoint exactly what went right, or may not even try.
Failure, on the other hand, begs for an explanation. Though there may be many variables involved, the critical eye it inspires helps entrepreneurs see weaknesses and mistakes that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. The doubt inspired by failure can help kick into gear what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “system 2” thinking, which is characterized by slow, effortful, and logical thought. This is in contrast to “system 1” thinking, which is quick and emotionally based, and often goes hand in hand with positive feelings, such as experiencing success. Though an entrepreneur shouldn’t purposely seek failure, the best entrepreneurs recognize failure and mistakes for the tools they are. They also keep a vigilant attitude toward both success and failure to understand what is driving their business.
Don’t just study questions, analyze them
You can see how this insight applies to your GMAT prep. Though you’re aiming to get each question you study correct, you don’t always learn much from them. Fortunately, given the GMAT, you’re guaranteed to get many questions wrong. Trust us, this is a good thing. Relish these mistakes. Though no one enjoys getting a question wrong, recognize the value of mistakes: they’re your personal guide to a better score.
For your GMAT prep, this means you should be spending more time reviewing questions than answering them. Instead of practicing a question, checking whether you answered correctly, and quickly moving on to the next one, slow down. Pick apart the question and your response. If you got it wrong, figure out why. Can you categorize the mistake you made as a careless error, a gap in your knowledge, or something else? Look for common errors, or traps, and start tracking patterns in your errors. You will soon begin to recognize these common pitfalls and avoid them. If you treat each mistake as an opportunity to learn, you’ll soon have a nuanced understanding of not only your strengths and weaknesses but also a clear understanding of how to improve.
Similarly, don’t skip over questions just because you got them right. Figure out why you got them right and if these questions truly represent strengths. Perhaps you got it right but it took you too long, or perhaps you got lucky on an educated guess. Such questions are closer to weaknesses than strengths and would have been easily passed over had you not paid closer attention. Remember that due to the GMAT’s adaptive nature, your reward for each correct answer is a more difficult question, so you want your correct answers to prove mastery, not luck. This focus on GMAT question remediation will give you a nuanced understanding of the test and help you recognize common patterns, which you can use to your advantage. It’s similar to how an observant CEO or product manager comes to know the needs and desires of customers as they iterate on their product.
Before Dr. Roberts left, a colleague asked him what kept him motivated throughout his illustrious career. His answer was “learning.” He loves learning something new everyday, whether from his colleagues, students, or acquaintances. This desire for learning and knowledge fueled Dr. Roberts’ research and pursuits. Even though you’re studying for a grueling, four-hour test rather than starting your own company, you can harness a similar appreciation for learning to help you stay motivated. Yes, the GMAT is more pain than pleasure, but tease out some enjoyment from the concepts and types of thinking you’re learning or reinforcing. This attitude will only serve you well during business school and beyond.