If you know me, the title of this post should make you wonder if i have developed a split personality of sorts. I am the guy who loves theory. I want to understand and explain things. I want to summarise, simplify and condense concepts. The thought of talking in front of people excites me, because it is an opportunity to take complicated facts and circumstances and make definitive, simplified, abstract conclusions.
One of my most interesting classes during my 5 years of studying at University was “Introduction to Law”. I have never told anyone this, because I’m sure that anyone who had that class would not want to continue to talk with me after learning that i actually enjoyed it. I still remember the revelation of learning about the power of making something abstract (like how a map is more useful than a photograph in certain circumstances). The “Law” is of course one of the most abstract, theoretical fields of study. The classes were filled with questions from students beginning with the phrase “But what would happen if…” as the students tried to make sense of the theory by applying it to facts. These questions were not meant for the study of law, rather for the aplication of law – the practise of being a lawyer, advocate, judge etc. These things never sparked my interest.
If the above paragraph is too long and seemingly irrelevant, in short, i love theory.
Here is the problem:
In business, theory never wins
I wanted to qualify that by saying ‘mostly’ or ‘almost never’, but the more i think about it, the more convinced i get. Theory can not ever win.
You see, in business, there is no reward for understanding something (even if you are a consultant). Simply understanding Social Media, or Marketing or Photography will grow your business by exactly ZERO. To believe the opposite would mean that you can also expect to get fit by reading about running and knowing the best training program off by heart.
The person who does something will always outperform the person who understands something. Even if the person who has the wrong understanding of business or the industry get off their butt and do something, anything, they will be one step ahead of the person still thinking about the best way to do something.
Why do i still love theory? I think a sounds understanding can enable you to do things better, simpler, more efficient, smarter and with better results. Just like running a race in running shoes will get you to your goal faster and with less pain than running in high heels. The theory however means nothing if i do not start running. So even if i run in high heels, i will be one step ahead of the person researching the best kind of running shoes available.
My challenge is this (to myself, but you may feel challenged too if you like) – Understand things only to the point where it allows me to do things better. Only then is there value in learning more. The simple act of learning is a brilliant distraction from doing something (while still feeling like I’m making progress.)
Learn as much as you can, but do more.