Raul Valdes-Perez | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Raul Valdes-Perez

Background:  

OnlyBoth has introduced a benchmarking engine powered by artificial intelligence that analyzes data and produces automated insights in writing. The system is geared toward companies that serve other companies. CEO and founder Raul Valdes-Perez is the author of “Advice is for Winners: How to Get Advice for Better Decisions in Life and Work.”

The Mistake:

The mistake that I made when I was younger was I didn’t have the experience or self-awareness to recognize that I lacked understanding about something, and it didn’t occur to me to ask another person to help me.

I was an undergrad at a large state university and had decided to apply to graduate school. I sent applications to three places – MIT, Caltech and my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Chicago – not realizing that I didn’t have the research experience that I needed for some of these schools.

The predictable thing happened – I only got into Illinois. Had I asked anybody, they might have told me the difficulty that I would encounter in getting into two of these schools. They might have suggested that I apply to second-tier schools.

Fortunately, for me, it turned out well. I went on to get my master’s in electrical engineering at Illinois and a doctorate a few years later at Carnegie Mellon University. Through the process, I learned the importance of calling on people for help. In 2000, I started a business without outside investors. I didn’t have any experience in business, but I called on people, realizing that no matter how smart one may be, somebody out there is smarter.

The goal is not to be the smartest in the room.

Lesson:

The goal is not to be the smartest in the room, but to bring the world knowledge and experience to bear on whatever one undertakes. Gain the self-awareness to realize when you need more information and talk to someone more senior than yourself. And learn how to do that well.

Meet that person face to face. It’s not a tweet or a posting on a social media site or even an email. Good advice presupposes knowledge of the person’s circumstances and goals, which requires asking questions and dialogue.

Follow Raul Valdes-Perez on Twitter at @OnlyBoth.

Photo courtesy of Raul Valdes-Perez

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email nryan@crain.com.
 
And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Pittsburgh.