I have recently been playing the role of an accountant.
No, I haven’t been wearing a brown suit with elbow patches. I’ve been knee-deep in financial data looking at an investment opportunity.
Having spent the last 10-plus years in the advertising industry working on campaigns and media plans, it isn’t the most natural thing for me to be doing.
But I did study accounting at university (300 years ago!) and I also spent over a year at KPMG as an auditor back in the 1990s. I moved on after about 14 months. I couldn’t handle the excitement!
But the last few weeks got me thinking about the value of skills and experiences that we accumulate. Often, the true value of them only reveals itself years later.
Had I not got my accounting degree and worked in an accounting firm, my ability to conduct due diligence on a company would have been greatly limited. At the time though, as I was developing those skills, I really didn’t enjoy it at all.
Now, I’m glad I did it.
I think that we are often too linear and prescriptive in the way we go about gaining skills and experience. So many people have clear stepping stones in their minds as to what they want to study and do.
That’s all well and good. But so often the true worth of things can only be seen in hindsight.
I was recently looking at a venture in the car industry.
While I was working in advertising, I worked on a major car account that regularly put me in contact with car dealers. At the time, it was a part of the advertising game that certainly wasn’t glamorous.
Indeed, within the agency I was working at, the account was not one that people really wanted to work on. There were no creative awards in ads that yelled, “Twenty-nine nine-ninety drive away no more to pay…”
It was boring, uncreative retail work with an overbearing client and a room-full of car dealers who knew next to nothing about advertising and all thought they were the smartest person in the room. There were even a couple of pony tails 20 years after they went out of fashion.
It was an average gig.
Yet years later, that experience – of having worked with people in the car industry – gave me the insight I needed to let a potential investment opportunity go by. I had enough knowledge to surmise that the concept would struggle.
All experience is valuable. All skills are useful. Work in lots of places with lots of people in lots of industries. Study in as many fields as you can. Read. Read widely and a lot.
You never know when what you know might be useful.