Which Education Will Pay Off Better: Formal or Hard Knocks?

Education seems to be the new buzz word in the business realm as if it was a new form of social media.  People are continuing to ask the importance of getting a formal education and the significance it will play in the lives of those that want to go into business for themselves one day.  Many have argued that it’s not necessary, just look at some of the most famous CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  Now, granted, they all attended college before dropping out to pursue the bigger picture, but they all they’ve spent some time behind the walls of higher education and I’m sure their experiences, no matter how lengthy or short, had some influence later in life.  Others say that going to school will prepare for the challenges ahead, both personally and professionally.

I say, let’s cut the B.S. and be honest about what education is and means today.

A few decades ago, having a college degree was like getting the golden ticket in a Willy Wonka chocolate bar.  It was your ticket to a better life, a better job and a higher standard of living.  Today, having a formal education is  being required by most employers.  As far as going into business for oneself, it’s all a matter of perspective.  Getting an education is great if you want to work for someone else.  That’s honestly what it prepares you for.  And if you think getting an MBA means anything different, think again.  Now, I’m not trying to knock education.  I’m constantly taking a community course and here and there to stay abreast of the mechanics of business  and I hold a bachelor’s degree.  But none of that has served me as well as getting into the trenches and learning for myself what it really takes.  In other words, it has been the hard knock lessons that have made me a more savvy business owner than all the classroom education money could buy.

Why is that?  Education is merely a tool.  And it depends on the holder of that education that will demonstrates how well that tool will perform once the theory has been absorbed.  Think of a handyman going to fix a leaky pipe.  He need tools to do so, right?  He may need one tool to remove a part, one to add something  and another to adjust an already existing part (forgive me for the improper lingo here, I’m not a handyman in the least bit).  But if he doesn’t have the tool he needs, he either doesn’t complete the job (at least, right then and there) or he makes do with what he does have.  The same philosophy can be applied to education and business.  We either make do with what education we have (and the tenacious ones do) or we just don’t bother (yet).

The truth of the matter is, a formal education can never offer any student everything they need to prepare for every scenario the world will throw at them.  Many lessons with be hands on.  All business owners and entrepreneurs have had to learn by way of trial and error.  No textbook, I’m sure, could have taught them what they know now. And yet people are still in enrolled in business courses in universities and colleges all around the country.  Why?  There are other important benefits that a classroom setting offers:

  • Networking opportunities – you never know who your classmates are and who they may know
  • A former professional –  just because your professor teaches doesn’t mean he didn’t ‘do’ at some point and still may have reputable contacts
  • Brainstorming time – while others may be digesting terminology, you can take this time to blue print your business
  • References – although textbooks are outdated once they’re published, there are number of things that still hold true no matter what the era is
  • Beta testing – who better to test your ideas on than people who will give you honest constructive feedback

All education has its place and benefits.  And before you race towards one over the one, decide which will give you and your business the best advantage for success.


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