Ten Lessons

Michael Coles during his bid for government office

From strating the Great American Cookie Company in 1977 with only $8,000 to setting three transcontinental cycling world records, directing Caribou Coffee as CEO, and running for Congress, Michael Coles possesses a wealth of knowledge acquired through years in the business and philanthropic fields.

Explore Michael Coles' Top Ten Lessons below, then match his experiences with artifacts you see in the exhibit around you.

  • Take most of your risks while you're young, for you can more easily recover if things go badly. The older you get, the more complicated life gets, and risk becomes much harder to stomach.

  • Associate only with people of integrity. Those without it will undermine your best efforts, diminish your effectiveness, and poison your company. To be that person of integrity, speak honestly, directly, and respectfully to everyone in your life and in your business—family, friends, suppliers, employees, colleagues, shareholders, and customers.

  • Find a mentor to guide your career. When you make your mark, become one.

  • Know what you don't know, and surround yourself with people from whom you can learn. Some people are intimidated by working with or associating with someone more capable or knowledgeable than they are in a specific area. Others thrive on building relationships with people who have complementary skill sets and conflicting points of view.

  • Even in a digital age, customers respond to, respect, and remember the personal touch. Technology is one of the most effective ways to reach customers, and if used wisely, it can replicate the warmth of face-to-face contact that has defined exemplary customer service over the past century.

  • Have a clear mission and vision statement, and make sure your team is fully committed to it. If your associates cannot explain the importance of your company's mission and why it resonates with customers, you have some work to do.

  • How you respond to the unexpected is the difference between success and failure. Regardless of how well you prepare, you will be confronted with uncertainty, failure, and plenty of surprises.

  • Trust your employees and give them the opportunity to do their best work for you. Few businesses invest in human capital in the way that they should, with professional development, opportunities for growth, and a meaningful reward system. Even fewer companies use the most important and cheapest tool in their arsenal—communication.

  • Use the skills that helped you build a great career or business to build a better world. Your success drew and depended upon community resources, from schools to libraries to banks, so become a good citizen and strive to make your community safer, stronger, and more resilient.

  • Never let someone else tell you what you cannot achieve or put limits on your potential. Do not let people underestimate your abilities because of your youth, and on the opposite end of the spectrum stay sharp, nimble, and relevant.