Spreadsheet skills is not the answer

When I teach organizational behaviour, I always start by asking: What is the worst problem you ever encountered at work? The answers I generally get are related to problems with co-workers (or boss), communication issues or lack of motivation. In all my years of teaching I have never got any student to say their worst problem was not knowing how to use a certain type of software, or that they didn’t know enough marketing or business strategy. No, it is never the lack of “spreadsheet abilities” or not knowing enough about a certain topic what makes our lives difficult at work, but rather our (or others’) lack of interpersonal skills.

The most important thing

I use these answers as evidence that the single most important factor that will explain the success of entrepreneurs relates to how much they know about human nature. In fact, several past studies indicate exactly that, with some of them indicating that up to 60 % of new ventures fail due to interpersonal problems within the team. This is not surprising. Many startups are led by professional scientists with very little understanding of what drives human behaviour.

Now, think about it. Would you board a plane whose pilot knows little or nothing about planes? So why join a team led by someone that knows little about human behaviour?

Develop your soft skills

Even though in the last 30 years the importance of learning interpersonal skills has grown, it is still relegated to a secondary role in startups. When there is lack of resources it is tempting to disregard investing the time to improve your interpersonal skills. But if research is right, and the lack of understanding of human behaviour is the single most important factor driving new venture failure, developing “soft skills” should be at the top of your priority list.