School can’t teach you how to be fearless

There are some people who don’t need to speak loudly in order to be heard. Openbox founder, Marquise Stillwell, is one of those people. With a quiet but powerful presence, Stillwell talks with a poignancy that makes his tidbits of wisdom seem new and fresh, no matter if you’ve heard them before.

We sat down with him for this edition of Do What You Love — a series that showcases the entrepreneurs behind startups and small businesses. Here’s what he shared:

I went to Ohio State University for undergrad and then I went to graduate school out at the University of Denver. I did my MBA and then went right back and  got my graduate degree in economics.

My path of experimenting and being curious is what led me to what we have right now at Openbox. We are a design and innovation firm. We help people to solve problems.

Design, at its core, is empathetic and very human. For me, it’s a great vehicle for not only solving problems but connecting with people. Design is a way of life for me.

School is a waste of time if you want to be an entrepreneur. You have to deprogram yourself. Being an entrepreneur means that you have to be comfortable with failure and school doesn’t teach you how to fail. School teaches you how to be passive. I think school is great and you can learn…but I don’t think that school can ever teach you how to be fearless. Education is important—I just don’t believe that formal education is as important as we place it in society. I think we’ve over-emphasized the formal sense of education. My grandfather didn’t finish high school, but he worked, he raised a family and he taught me a lot. He was an amazing artist and so my creative sensibility comes from him.

I’m very careful to not over-emphasize the need to get this graduate degree or that degree. Am I glad I did it? Yes. Have I learned a lot from going to school? Definitely. But I never want to take away from the fact that there’s a lot I learned from just watching and doing and seeing my grandfather and great-grandfather just try stuff.

If you don’t know how to build teams and empower people to help you out, you’re going to fail. If you feel like you have to do everything, you’ll never make it, ever. You can’t do everything by yourself. I’m not here because of how great I am. I’m here because I know how to find great people and inspire them to do great things.

Leadership is not being in front. You can lead from behind, you can lead from the side. Leadership is about creating structure and getting people to align with an idea. Great leaders are also people that know how to follow.

If you know who you are then you’ll continue to fight for yourself. If you don’t know how to value yourself, if you don’t know how to value your time, then you get caught up in a lot of…stuff. I value my time, highly, and I value who I am. I never let anyone define who I am; I define it for myself.

It’s not what you have it’s who you are that makes a person. I’m not here solely to make money. Making money is important—but it’s not about collecting things. For me, I want to create the best conditions for people to live their dreams and be inspired.


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