Criteria for Practical Theory (Private)

Most employers cannot afford to train college graduates on what they need to know for the job, but the university did not teach them.” — Murray Johannsen 

Today, employers want new hires who are “desk ready.” Desk ready means you have the skills needed to do a job without further training. As an employer, I have pretty much given up on finding students who can actually do marketing in the real world, something they never learned in the university.

 Five Criteria for Practical Theory

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

Your skill development program is only as good as the theory behind it. In other words, before you practice, you must know and understand intellectually what has to be done. Such a simple truth, forgotten by many.

Our definition of “practical theory” relates to building skills in the real world. Practical theory is:

  • Valid
  • Defines Context
  • Relevant and Practical
  • Contains Learnable Steps
  • Converts into Behavior and/or Repeatable Mental Processes

Criteria 1:  It’s Valid —  It Works in the Real World

Image by: Lienhard Schulz The Walk of Ideas

“Academic theory is so removed from the real world as to make certain degrees of no value to an employer.”— M. Johannsen

One sees this in economics where complex math models can’t predict recision. It’s like the theory only works when the sun is out. By works, we Take for example, “Treat others with respect.” Nothing wrong with the principle, but respect is an abstract concept not easily turned into discrete behaviors. 

For example, respect is signaled by using sir, madam or a title with the surname. Of course that is not the only thing, you may also have to display humility. Of course, there are other subtle signals as well. The use of the voice and nonverbal communication facial signals and gestures go hand in hand conveying respect.

Even in business, there are theories that don’t work. In fact, Google admitted recently that GPA was a poor predictor of organizational success. So if you want to learn impractical theory,

Criteria 2: Defined Context

Rare is the theory of human behavior that works in all situations. Most have certain situations in which they work better, other situations where they don’t work at all. Honestly, most theories are assumed to work in all situations so you will often have to figure this out on your own.

Image by: Serouj

Take for example, the commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” It would be wonderful it worked without exception. But there are certain situations where you can kill. For example, if higher authority tells you too, in self-defense or to protect the life of another.

Criteria 3: Practical and Relevant

Image by: Mike Cattell Hampton Court Astrological Clock

Remember, employers don’t hire you because you are an expert in “critical thinking.” And just you can get an “A” on a research paper, doesn’t mean that you can write a memo.

I was recently talking to a student who was in a master’s program in communication. To me this made a great deal of sense since verbal communication skill consistently ranks high on the list of what employers want. But she wasn’t very happy her a degree. When asked why, she said, “I’m not learning anything that I can use in the real world.”

So in universities, one has an interesting situation in which that the leadership professor is not a leader, a marketing professor cannot conduct a marketing campaign, and the entrepreneurial professor would not be caught dead running a business.

  Criteria 4: Learnable Steps

Image by Wizzard: Prague Zodiac

One unique element of the model involves the uses of both mental and behavioral practice.

A fair amount of academic theory is impractical from a learning standpoint. The theory is all what and no how.

For example, there are in b-schools today, accounting professors who have never performed accounting in the real world. There are Buddhist professors who teach a class on the theory of meditation, but cannot meditate themselves.

Learnable steps are needed to be able able to engage in the practice needed to build skill.

Criteria 5: Coverts into Mental Processes and/or Behavior

Picture by neurovelho
Picture by: neurovelho

Sheet music is elegant in its form — A visual format that conveys sound. It’s formed in such a way that it contains  just what just what you need to know to produce music (assuming you can play an instrument or sing.)

It’s important to understand that many commonly accepted leadership theories are very difficult to turn into actionable behavior.

For More Reading:

Rosenberg, Alex (2013). What is Economics Good for?, New York Times.

Gustacci, Steve (ND). Steve Jobs: Literature Review

Work Skills For the 21st Century