Theoretical and Practical Knowledge in Marketing
Throughout my education, I always believed that the countless hours I spent writing papers, taking tests, studying, and sitting through lectures would make me an expert in whatever it was that I was learning. I worked really hard in high school to figure out what I was the most passionate about, and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The two subjects that I chose were communications and marketing, so I dedicated myself to studying them for the next four years.
Looking back now, I would say that a large chunk of my college career was spent learning about theories. These theories included agenda setting, Maslow's hierarchy, the magic bullet, cognitive dissonance, cultivation, groupthink, social learning, and framing — just to name a few. The idea was to help us understand and predict human behavior so that we could (theoretically) use that knowledge to become successful in both the workplace and in life.
When I graduated from college this past spring, fully equipped with all of the knowledge (theories) that my professors had imparted, I decided that I was ready to apply this knowledge to a career. After a string of tearful goodbyes and a long flight across the country, I moved to Eugene, Oregon, with just two bags of luggage, but plenty of ambition.
As luck would have it, I quickly found the job that I’d always dreamed about in school. Just as quickly, I learned that the workplace is drastically different than the classroom.
A majority of my educational career was based on independent studies and homework — group projects were something to be feared. But when I first began working, I was given projects that often involved working in groups. In the workplace, there are completely separate pieces of the business that need to find a way to mesh together in order to function as a single, well-running machine. Teamwork is essential for a company's survival and success.
Learning how to collaborate with others was something completely new to me, and I discovered that people are not as predictable as I once believed. Each of my new coworkers had his or her own unique knowledge, experiences, and personality. In school, the theories that I learned seemed very concrete and they made me think that the world was black and white. However, the workplace, and the people in it, live in a very gray area. Learning to work with different individuals (in that gray area) quickly took precedence over trying to apply the theories that I had learned in school.
This made me think about “street smarts” vs. “book smarts.” After 16 straight years of school, my mind was full of “book smarts,” but I was lacking the “street smarts” to back up all of that theoretical knowledge. Another lesson that I have learned is that simply having a degree doesn't guarantee success. Learning does not stop the second that you leave the classroom. Actually, outside of the classroom is where the real education begins.
Theories come from years of research done by academics all over the world. These researchers take a concept, study it, test it, and determine whether their findings are helpful to society. They often talk about what has and has not worked in the past. The theories — and everything else that you learn in school — help broaden your understanding of a wide variety of subjects and may even prepare you for a job’s workload, but I can honestly say that I have learned more than I ever imagined over the course of the past few months on the job. There is nothing more exciting than being given a new task, something that you have never done before, and figuring out how to complete it. This education through experience can’t be replicated, even by years in the classroom.
I am thankful for and proud of my education, but I am even more grateful for a job where I am challenged daily. I hope to continue learning something new every day for the rest of my career, and I now know that the only way to really become an expert in something is to acquire both “book smarts” and “street smarts.”