You might be surprised to learn that high school and business share many of the same situations and challenges: an extended learning period with feedback and interaction between many different people, the challenge of creating and maintaining relationships, and managing both your self-identity and your identity to your peers. It’s a difficult time for sure, but it can make you—or your business—stronger if you learn the right lessons from the experience.
Reputation Matters more than Popularity
Not many people understand that popularity is often a result of one’s reputation, and not the other way around. Fostering a desirable reputation is a good way of increasing your standing with your customers and peers. Likewise, getting a bad reputation can wreak havoc on how you and your customers interact, because their thinking will automatically be colored by whatever negative things they’ve heard. So it’s a good idea to build and protect your good name as much as you can.
Your reputation also affects the kind of attention that you get. Certain types of people will be attracted to certain things. This is how cliques and niches are formed: when people with similar values and interests converge and share their enthusiasm with each other.
Cliques Do Interact — and They Should
Cliques in high school aren’t always as cut-and-dried as they’re made out to be. Groups do interact amongst themselves and share the same interests, whether it’s as a group or between individual members. This makes for a richer experience and closer relationships for a more tight-knit community. Social hierarchies are a sad fact of life—but we don’t have to conform to them.
In the business world, this is called cross-marketing. Brands with wildly different products and markets can find common ground and cooperate to create great promotions, events, or product bundles that bring great value to customers.
Mistakes aren’t Forever
When you first start out, even the tiniest mistake seems like a life-ending problem of epic proportions. But that’s what being a teenager is all about: making mistakes and learning from them. These kinds of growing pains are important because it helps you learn about how to deal with people, situations, and most importantly, yourself, so that you can avoid repeating these mistakes in the future.
Businesses are under a constant pressure to reinvent themselves in the face of changing times and changing markets, so much so that it sometimes seems like they’ve never graduated from adolescence. As marketers struggle to find the perfect way to connect with their customers, they will commit mistakes both minor and major. People will be offended. Customers will leave. But no mistake is unrecoverable. You can still win them back if you learn and adapt.
Focus on the Goal, But Plan Beyond It
Graduation is the primary goal of nearly every high schooler. Whether school is a pleasant experience for them or not, every single student wants to graduate and focuses energy towards that goal. But they’re not focusing exclusively on graduation. They’re looking past it, to life after. That may be college. That may be a job. That may be a relationship. Or a sports career. Or a business idea. Graduation is a goal, but it’s not the stopping point.
Businesses need to think the same way. What is the objective of this quarter’s marketing campaign? What comes after that? What happens after the product launches? What do we do after we become the number one in our segment? Responsible business and marketing strategy demands that you have long-term goals that build off of and adapt to the results of your short-term ones. These plans have to be fluid and adaptable to the situation.
Don’t Succumb to Peer Pressure
“If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” has been the mantra of every parent since time immemorial, and it’s no less true today than it was back then. People do stupid things on occasion, especially in high school when you’re trying things out, and following along with the crowd against your better judgment is one of the worst things you can do for yourself—for both your safety and your self-esteem.
This kind of practice is just as prevalent in business as it is in high school, but with far greater effects. It’s hard to eschew bad accounting practices, worker exploitation, and false advertising when other companies are using it to gain an advantage. But businesses need to rise beyond that and find ways to keep up while staying true to their beliefs. In fact, many businesses have succeeded precisely because they stepped away from the pack and behaved responsibly, making them stand out and earning the attention and respect of their customers.
Integrity Counts for Something
In person and in business, there is something to be said for being consistent and firm in your values. It may not be immediately apparent, but standing up for your beliefs will have effects far beyond yourself. Others can be inspired to follow your example, and trigger a chain effect where they move on to inspire others.
In the realm of business, integrity will show in every aspect of your interaction with customers. It can be felt in the quality of products that you use. It can be heard in the voice of your customer service and sales people. It can be seen in your marketing. Integrity can be faked, but it’s a fragile shell that easily breaks when put to the test. Real integrity stands up to crisis, and even thrives upon it.
It’s only Dog-Eat-Dog if You Let It
Both high school and business have a reputation for being a dog-eat-dog environment, and it’s largely well-deserved. But to paraphrase British statesman Edmund Burke, all it takes for it to happen is for good people to do nothing.
Just as students and faculty need to stand up to bullying and other forms of maltreatment and misbehavior, so do businesses need to watch out for false advertising, unjust practices, bigotry, and negative stereotypes within their marketing. Even if you as a business cannot actually call the other companies out on their behavior, you can still function as a role model and be above these things yourself.