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The Best Professional Development Advice Ever No doubt you are looking for inspiration. Chances are, you are looking in the wrong place.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Our culture is obsessed with self-improvement, personal productivity, and professional development. It's an enormous fad and, for the most part, an enormous waste of time. Precious time. Time you could and should be spending actually developing your career and grooming yourself to achieve great things.

Listen carefully and I'll let you in on a little secret. Personal improvement and professional development doesn't come from classes, books, blogs, TED videos, or feel-good inspirational stories, quotes, parables and platitude. It comes from experience.

Experience is the best teacher. Always is and always has been. On the job experience in the real world. Getting your hands dirty and your feet wet. Observing how things are done, right or wrong, then trying it on your own. Trial and error. That's the secret to all learning. It's also the secret to making it big in this world.

I bet you didn't know that there are a handful of American companies that have one thing in common: They consistently breed great leaders. Besides developing a constant stream of talent to fill their own executive ranks, companies like General Electric, Procter & Gamble, IBM, McKinsey, Honeywell, American Express and Intel breed entrepreneurs and executives that go on to found and lead hundreds of companies.

Related: Why People Don't Follow Their Dreams

GE and P&G alone turned out Intuit founder Scott Cook, AOL founder Steve Case, former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer, H-P and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney, Home Depot CEO Frank Blake and dozens of other ridiculously successful business leaders.

The way they do it is mostly hands-on, on-the job experience, along with some mentoring and coaching. That's the model used to develop most of America's business stars.

Truth is, most successful entrepreneurs don't just walk out of a dorm room into a garage and, presto, a great company is born. They worked somewhere first and, in many if not most cases, spent a good many years being groomed before opportunity knocked or the innovative light bulb in their heads turned on.

Related: Should You Join LinkedIn's Expanded Influencer Program?

As for the rest – those that make it on their own right out of the gate – they don't just sit around, read and watch videos. They dive right in and get to work. They go with what works, learn from their mistakes and get some mentoring along the way. Again, the method is the same: on-the-job experience with some mentoring.

Look at it this way. You know the old adage, "Feed someone fish and he'll eat for a day; teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime?" That is sound logic there, but it doesn't apply to entrepreneurialism.

Instead, what you do is show that same guy where the lake is and say good luck. If he's hungry, he'll get right to work. If he's smart, he'll figure out how to get those fish. And once he's mastered that, he'll take them back where he came from and make a fortune selling them to all the hungry people … including the guy that teaches fishing.

That's how real innovators and entrepreneurs are born. So quit messing around and get to work, get some experience, and develop yourself. I'm sure you'll kick butt. If you're meant to be an entrepreneur, that's all the inspiration you'll need. No kidding.

Related: The 10 Most Shockingly Untrue Entrepreneurial Myths, Exposed

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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