Pragmatists vs. Academicians

The foregoing article was originally written October of 2012:

If there is one word you’ve seen emphasized throughout this entire website, it is the word “pragmatic.” I think now would be a great time to define that term.

Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.

Since the topic of this conversation is Pragmatists vs. Academicians, now would also be a great time to define an academician.

An academic; an intellectual.

Someone may be asking, “but which one is more important?” In truth, both are important, but one is more important than the other. On one hand, academic knowledge of a thing can provide a general understanding. But until you’ve actually put that information into use, and have gained experienced, your understanding is largely theoretical. Why? Because you haven’t actually done it to prove that it works. Once you’ve done a thing successfully, you can then speak about it from experience because you know how that particular thing works realistically…which is pragmatism.

In the real world, pragmatism wins. I’ve saw situations where young college graduates (academicians) are competing for a high level job within a prestigious firm. The grad thinks that because he’s got a college degree, that he’s a lock for the position. In fact, every grad who’s competing for the job thinks the same thing. But little do they know, there’s another guy competing for that same job who’s not a college graduate, but who has 15 years experience in that particular field. To make a long story short, the experienced guy ends up getting the job and the college grads are left wondering what happening. I’ve seen it happen. Even in the most competitive, professional environments, pragmatism wins. Had the company hired those young grads, their academic training wouldn’t have been enough to complete their assigned duties. The company still would have had to train them how to do the job in the real world. But since the guy with 15 years experience has done it, and for so long, the company felt he was the better candidate because they knew he could come in and hit the ground running.

When it comes to my studies, every book I read is pragmatic. The authors may have an academic background, but you’d better believe that they also have real world experience to prove what they say is true. Those are the only kind of people I listen to, those that have done it…successfully. For example, I was reading “The Alchemy of Finance” by George Soros a few weeks ago. Mr. Soros is a billionaire who achieved that level of success through trading. Mr. Soros did attend college, but he himself said that what really made him wealthy was getting out in the real world. Warren Buffett, a billionaire with an academic background, said the same thing! These are both two of the richest men in the world concurring that pragmatism is absolutely vital.

I remember a conversation I was having with a guy. We were discussing whether we thought obtaining an MBA or being the apprentice of a successful businessman would be more beneficial for success in business. To my surprise, the guy believed that having an MBA would be the better option. What this guy (and people who think like him) fail to realize is that professors usually aren’t businessmen. In fact, they’ve most likely never done a business deal in their lives. While their lessons may be valuable in the sense that the student learns the academic side of business, however, the pragmatic side is more important.

That reminds me of a book I was reading by Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank & Dragon’s Den. If you’re interested, the book is titled “Cold Hard Truth: On Business, Money & Life.” In one part of the book, he told the story of an event that occurred between himself, a few other investors and a college professor. The story was basically this: He and Robert Herjavec (also of Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den) struck a deal to invest $200,000 into a business created by a couple of college students. When the deal was to be finalized, the students brought their business professor with them. During the meeting, the professor basically attacked O’Leary and Herjavec, saying that since neither of them had business degrees, they had no business trying to help the two students with their businesess (mind you that Mr. O’Leary and Mr. Herjavec are both worth well over $100 Million dollars through businesses they both founded). For some strange reason, the students allowed the professor to run his mouth to the point where Robert Herjavec tore apart the check for $200,000 on national TV! All because they allowed academia to interfere with pragmatism.

I’m not telling anyone not to pursue academia. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that anyone who wishes to excel in anything most take a pragmatic approach as well. That is because in my book, I define power as “Accurate knowledge that has been confirmed by intelligent action.” What this means is that whatever we learn, assuming its accurate (knowledge), doesn’t become power until we use it….successfully. Which explains my point about professors who teach in a lot of business schools. They’re very smart men and women, but they most likely haven’t done it. So what their knowledge hasn’t been transformed into power. If you look at what we’ve been discussing, you’d see that the only thing separating the pragmatist from the academician is experience.


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