The importance of learning to learn.
Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Conference (going on now in Aspen, Colo.) regularly brings together the best and brightest minds in tech innovation. Each week, Fortune turns the spotlight on a different conference attendee to offer his or her own personal insight into business, tech, and entrepreneurship. This week, we asked Chief Infotainment Officer at General Motors Philip Abram to answer 10 questions about life outside of work, the best advice he ever received, and industry tips for young entrepreneurs. His responses follow.
What is the best advice you ever received?
As a young engineer, I was advised to look for areas undergoing change and spend time on the “business side” of the company, because that is what drives decisions. I’ve spent my career close to that boundary between technology and business, the intersection of what is possible and what is profitable.
What would you say to a group of young people looking to enter the tough job market?
Even in a tough market, follow your interests and passions. You’ll be happier and more valuable to your employer.
What was the most important thing you learned in school?
How to learn. How to process and retain new information and be able to apply it to solve new problems. My undergrad electrical engineering knowledge is quite dated after all these years. Every day I learn something new and incorporate that into how I tackle the issues that come my way.
What do you do for fun?
Get outside as much as I can (yes, even in Detroit!). Cycling, hiking, seeing our national and regional parks.
What is your greatest achievement?
Working on a team that rapidly grew a startup (Sonos) selling premium products during the worst economic downturn in over 50 years. Sonos grew more than 50% year-over-year in 2009 in a consumer electronics industry that was shrinking by 30% while we lowered our operating expenses.
What has been your biggest failure?
So many to choose from…Taking too long to realize what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. Not having good self-awareness limited what I could contribute to many of the jobs I’ve had in the past. Even positions that were “successful” in many ways, I did not do all I could have done.
What technology sector excites you most?
I am attracted to sectors undergoing significant change. That’s what is exciting about my role at General Motors. It is a new intersection of technology (connectivity) and business (auto industry) with so much opportunity. The user experience in the vehicle will undergo radical change in the next 3-5 years.
What do you do to live a balanced life?
Have fun at work and it’s not really work. We are building a new team within GM dedicated to the innovation of connected services in the vehicle. It is a new frontier for the company and we are attracting new talents. We have fun and hopefully it is reflected in our products. A desire to come to the office each day is key to a balanced life.
What is one characteristic that every leader should possess?
Given my answer on failures, self-awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. Build on your strengths, and surround yourself with people to mitigate your weaknesses. Find peers and mentors that are willing to help you see your weaknesses.
Is business school necessary for entrepreneurs?
Never necessary, but certainly beneficial. In particular, if you have a technical background, business school will round out your knowledge on how business operates. Every entrepreneur needs to understand how to make money from their ideas.