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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 5:21 am | Fair 42º


Paul Burri: Those Who Can, Do

Tensions always simmer below the surface between academics and the guys with 'dirty hands'

There is an ongoing war of sorts going on between the two branches of teaching: the academics and the guys with the dirty hands. The guys with the dirty hands are the people who may or may not have a formal education, but have become very successful anyway because of their years of practical experience. The “dirty hands” know they are looked down on by the academics because the academics feel there is nothing that surpasses book learning. Practical people like to respond with the story of the statistician who drowned while wading across a river that had an average depth of four feet. The “dirty hands” tend to be scornful of anyone who has “never made a payroll” because when you’re in business, that’s often one of the hardest tests of maintaining a viable business. And the “dirty hands” are also inclined to say, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” (They also sometimes say, ” And those who can’t teach become consultants.”)

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

And so it goes.

A friend of mine who considers himself one who’s been in the trenches — so to speak — told me about a funny incident that happened to him some years ago. (By the way, anyone who has read more than one of my columns knows what “camp” I belong to.)

My friend had a marketing consulting firm and he was working with one of his clients. One day when he came in for a meeting with his client, he was introduced to a new gentleman that the client had hired. This new gentleman had a doctorate in marketing and was a professor at a nearby business college. My friend described the meeting as similar to two male walruses meeting during mating season. The attitudes between my friend and the professor were as I described earlier.

At some time during the meeting, the professor remarked that he did not think my friend had sufficient marketing statistical data to justify his recommendations. Not surprising since most academics look for statistical data — sometimes reams and reams of it — and tend to ignore plain old experience and common sense. My friend replied in his own inimical way.

He said, “I have discovered that when I bang my head against the wall like this (actually pretending to do so), it hurts my head and it raises a nasty lump. Then when I do the same thing again (again pretending to bang his head) it hurts again and I get another nasty lump. And when I do it for the third time (pretending to bang his head for the third time) it hurts a little more and I end up with a third nasty lump. I have decided from that experience that three times is enough statistical data for me to decide not to keep on banging my head like that. If you think that four or 500 times will give you better data, please be my guest.”

Eventually the client dispensed with the services of the professor and followed my friend’s advice.

Please do not infer from all this that I do not believe in academic training. On the contrary, I strongly believe the best approach is to use academic training combined with experience and plain old common sense.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business but he is a small business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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