Old schoolFirst, there was no evidence of any correlation between performance at school or university and subsequent financial success; some of the richest interviewees didn’t even finish high school. Far more important were the experiences they gained in their lives outside of school and university. In fact, most of them got their first taste of entrepreneurship before they finished their formal education. Unlike most of their fellow students, they didn’t have typical jobs or earn an hourly wage. It was equally interesting to find out that half of these wealthy individuals were competitive athletes when they were younger. It is particularly striking to see just how many of my interviewees were involved in sales and marketing from a very young age. What these high-achievers learned from sales, their early entrepreneurial activities, and competitive sports was more important than what they learned at school or university.
Psychologists distinguish between implicit and explicit learning, and it was implicit learning experiences that most benefited the super-rich. It is therefore not surprising that many of them stressed the role that “gut feeling” and “intuition” played in their financial success. However, it is important to point out that gut feeling is in no way irrational, rather it is an expression of implicit knowledge. Many interviewees stressed the major role sales skills played in their entrepreneurial success. But they were clear that they didn’t learn to sell at university – sales skills are among the things that you can only learn implicitly.