Education Is Not Important For Success

millennialsLearning is not education.

Sitting in a hotel lobby in Martinborough, New Zealand after a bike ride, two professors from Vancouver asked me if I thought education was important for success. They hit my hot button. If, like the old saying goes, knowledge is power, then librarians would rule the world. They don’t. Something else is more correlated to success than education.

Millions of higher degree recipients make less during their careers than people who dropped out of high school. And millions who never finished high school make huge impacts and a lot of money.

We miss cause and effect all the time. As an example, people love to say, “College graduates make a million dollars more in their lifetime than non-college graduates.”Is it because they went to school, or because they are motivated to do anything that will make them successful? I think it’s the latter.

If they were told they needed to apprentice with a businessperson they would do that instead of getting an MBA (that would be my advice). They are motivated and committed, and will do whatever they have to in order to be successful.

There is some clear correlation between education in the hard sciences (pharmaceuticals, engineering, plumbing, etc.) and success. If you violate hydrology ($%@* flows downhill), you’ll make a lousy plumber. But there is little correlation in the soft sciences. People build committed communities all the time without ever taking a sociology course. Others help people get past their bad habits without ever taking a psychology course.

Business is one of the soft sciences where education is least correlated with success. Dropouts from college (or people who never went) start hugely successful companies all the time. “Is college necessary?” is becoming a mainstream question.

What makes business owners successful? According to research, education doesn’t show up in the top five. (Entrepreneurial Intuition, an Empirical Approach, La Pira, April 2010), but these do:

  1. Seeing the big picture – being a visionary is most important. If you can’t see it, you won’t shoot for it.
  2. Speed of Execution – taking action while others are researching.
  3. Never giving up; being the bull dog; finding a way to make it work.
  4. Being a life-long learner.

Learning is massively different than being educated. Education fills our heads with information, while learning transforms our lives and the world around us with grounded and applied intelligence.

If you want to have your head filled with facts, get an education. It you want to learn, change lives and/or make money, you’re better off apprenticing with someone who’s done it. They won’t try to educate you, they’ll just make sure you are effective and becoming something you aren’t, yet.

The Greeks were wrong.

We don’t think our way to a new way of acting; we act our way to a new way of thinking.

Go do something with someone who’s already done it; and learn from their experience.

The Vancouver professor’s responses? “Check, please.”