Business School on €1,20 a day – news as case studies

By Susan August 28, 2012 17:43

Business School on €1,20 a day – news as case studies



I was giving a talk in a school one day, to a group of Transition Years. They were considering studying economics.

I told them it was the only subject on the Leaving Cert curriculum that you can study by listening to the radio.


Let’s take the example of somebody who doesn’t know anything about business but is thinking of starting their own enterprise.

Let’s say you open the paper to the Business section, and you learn about an entrepreneur that has had to overcome some kind of obstacle. Perhaps they can’t find investors and decided to resort to “crowdfunding”. Perhaps they’re going to export but they’re not sure how to do it. Perhaps they’re a start-up and are still in the market research phase.

What can you do with that piece of news? Is there anything in there for you to learn?


Instead of letting yourself be used by the news,

why not use the news?


I have always been inspired by reading about successful entrepreneurs, or about big changes in an organization.

If you use economy news to kickstart your thinking, you change the focus from passive hopelessness to active problem-solving. This goes a long way towards improving not only your mood, but your general situation, at home or in the office.

You could use news stories as business case studies.

Harvard Business School is famous for training its students to put themselves in the shoes of entrepreneurs and seeing how they would act if they were in the same situation. This is achieved by studying in detail past cases of businesses that had to make a tough choice, or faced a daunting change, etc.

Even if you are not attending Harvard Business School, you can create your own, extremely useful case studies.


What would you do if you were them?


Even if you don’t know the first thing about business, reading business news will attune you to a different way of thinking. You will see what is possible, what is not, how to build a sustainable business and what pitfalls to avoid.

I have been interviewed several times about how I started to export – you might have read about it! But I’ve often been on the other side as well, reading about a successful entrepreneur in the paper.

I often contact newspapers to get in touch with an entrepreneur or business that was covered in an article, to learn more about how they did something. I frequently look up websites after hearing about them in the news, to follow up on some actionable way to improve my business.

Visualizing is a very helpful tool as well. You don’t need to know it all before you start to imagine scenarios. Imagine all you want, and then you can follow a certain news story to see whether the scenario you imagined came true, or if other factors influenced the outcome.

Say you dream of starting your own business, but you’re not sure that you want to go all-in and take the risk right now. By targeting news that cover business and entrepreneurship, you can just ease into it and dip your toes, familiarizing yourself with the idea of leading a business.

What would you do if you were the business leader featured in the news story? If you were faced with the same challenges? If you hear that an organisation is taking a certain step, can you retrace their motives? Can you think why exactly they are taking this step?

For example you might have heard of corporate bonds. Before you started to read the news with a critical eye, you didn’t know the difference between a share and a corporate bond.

But now you’ve done some research, and you realise that if a certain company is issuing bonds instead of selling shares, it might be because they want to raise capital without increasing the number of shareholders (de facto owners) of the company.

Now why would they want to avoid taking on more shareholders? That’s for you to imagine.


What’s a business plan?

A seriously imagined scenario


This strategic daydreaming can take you quite far and is a very easy, cost-free way to try the business lifestyle. You could try a whole lot of variations on the topic: say you read about an entrepreneur who had to work 90-hour weeks over three years to pull it off. You could try to imagine what those hours were filled with. What actions took up so much of their time? Could you imagine that person’s schedule? It doesn’t matter how accurate your imaginings are, it’s just a theoretical exercise to try the idea on for size.

Then see if this is for you. Perhaps you’re a mother of two with a full-time job and you couldn’t just put everything else on hold while you’re building your business. How much longer would it take you to get to their level? What are you prepared to do or not do to speed up the process? Could you tweak their business model until it fits your tastes and your lifestyle?

You might reject this as pie-in-the-sky daydreaming, but this kind of serious visualization is hard work and takes a lot of concentration. And it’s a very valuable exercise because it makes you aware of everything that goes on behind the scenes in a business: what the obstacles are, how to look out for them and how to overcome them.

As a result, you won’t look at the businesses around you in the same way! And you might just find your own business idea in there: after all, perhaps you find that an obstacle that stymies other business owners is very easy to solve – and you are just the person for that! Why not get in touch with the business and tell them how you could solve their problem? You’ve found a gap in the market and filled a need – you’re in business!

I know for a fact that this strategy works, and that there are companies that use the business pages in the Sunday papers as their lead generation list for the week… because I have been on the receiving end of the phonecall that starts with “I saw you on the paper this week-end and wanted to congratulate you on [insert reason for article]. I was just wondering if you were interested in …”

Imagine how wonderful that is for your prospect – they simply stated their problem to a journalist, and then the problem solver just comes to them, thanks to that article! They didn’t even have to lift a finger! So if you feel confident you can solve their problem, go ahead and get in touch!

And all it took was the willingness to use the news, instead of being used by them.

So there you have it: go get today’s paper, but be very picky about what you choose to read.

Select one interesting story in the business section and give it a good think. You might also want to create a Google Alert for that person or company, so that you know about further developments!


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By Susan August 28, 2012 17:43