Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

School of Hard Knocks

By Chris Green on Sep 06 2010 • Filed under Chris Green's Legal Basics

I hear it said frequently that we are becoming a society of “lifelong learning” and, to an extent, I suppose that is true. Certainly, as a lawyer I am required to take a minimum number of continuing legal education courses each year and I find that, in order to keep pace with ever-changing laws and procedures, I usually far exceed my quota of coursework.

Much of this lifelong learning, of course, is simply thrust upon us by the relentless pace of technology. A computer crash last month, for example, forced me to quickly educate myself in the mysteries of Windows 7, and I had almost learned to program my video tape recorder before it became obsolete.

While it may be only in an urban myth, I love the tale of the escaped long-term convict who turned himself in after a frustrating few days of trying to deal with self-service gas stations, ATMs and other gadgetry which had transformed the world since he had been incarcerated. Having been forced to stand still technologically, the change was too overwhelming for him to adapt to.

But “lifelong learning” also refers to our societal obsession with degrees and designations which I think is unhealthy. A post secondary degree or a vocational certification seems a prerequisite for so many jobs that I have to ask myself, does a policeman, a fireman or a photocopy salesman really need a BA? and does a legal secretary really have to be a “Certified Legal Assistant?”

Perhaps it is more appropriate to think of “lifelong learning” as the steady accretion of knowledge and wisdom that comes only from real-world experience. I say the best school and indeed the only real school, is the School of Hard Knocks. Even in professions such as medicine and law, where much formal education is required, book learning is only the starting point, as the doctors’ and lawyers’ real skills are honed by real life experience, and there is simply no substitute for it.

For someone wanting to pursue the dream of entrepreneurship, the issue of whether to spend the time and money to pursue formal training, or to dive in feet first instead, takes on real meaning.

I am reminded of Michael Gerber's remarks in his seminal book The- E-Myth, that it is simply not necessary, and it is probably counter-productive, for the business owner to actually know how to do the technical work of the business. Gerber's thesis is that formal education and training creates a technician, who is technically competent in the mechanical processes of the business but clueless as to how to actually run the business successfully.

So, if you want to work in a business, get a degree, but if you intend to work on your business, enrol instead for some course in the School of Hard Knocks.


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