[June 4, 2018] Practical knowledge is incredibly important to any leader and life in general. Not only is it useful in its immediate application to a laundry list of everyday problems but it can be achieved only through personal experience in failure. You read that right … only through failure.
“Besides the practical knowledge which defeat offers, there are important personality profits to be taken. Defeat strips away false values and makes you realize what you really want. It stops you from chasing butterflies and puts you to work digging gold.” – William Moulton Marston, American psychologist, inventor, and self-help author
There’s a favorite cartoon of mine that shows several U.S. Army officers standing over a forlorn-looking Private who is at a computer terminal. The Private is thinking to himself, “Mental note to self: never again, will I, under any circumstances disclose to anyone that I know how to use Microsoft Excel.”1
There are, of course, many types of knowledge and different ways of acquiring each kind. On one side of a continuum, we find theoretical knowledge2 and on the other practical knowledge. Both are useful and those most successful in life acquire both in a variety of ways. The Private in the cartoon is demonstrating the usefulness of practical knowledge.
I once knew a politician who told me that what he learned about life was acquired in the “school of hard knocks.” He was a very practical man who was successful as a truck driver and later as a city politician. I admired him for his reliability to get things done quickly and efficiently. This required considerable leadership skills; nearly all of it learned the hard way.
Frankly, there is no substitute for practical experience. It builds confidence, reduces the ineffective behavior, increases team effectiveness, reduces stress and risks, and helps eliminate biases in our decision-making. The leadership lesson is simple; there is no substitute for experience.
- The cartoon is from The Best of the Best, of the Best of PVT Murphy’s Law by Mark Baker, 2005.
- Theoretical knowledge teaches the why. It helps you understand why one technique works where another fails. It shows you the whole forest, builds the context, and helps you set strategy. https://vanseodesign.com/whatever/theoretical-practical-knowledge/