Einstein Life Hacks #1 of 10 – The Value of EXPERIENCE versus Education


While the Executive Village’s “ Focus:  Changing the Game” provides different topics every day, those features tend to require a dedicated block of time for you to absorb the message and to come up with your own plan of action.

The Game Changing Insights section will bring you much shorter articles and series that help to get you focused immediately on working ON your business, not IN your business with practical tips and inspiration. 


In 1975, during the first semester of my freshman year at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the title of my first paper for my English class was “The Value of Experience versus Education.”  My English teacher was Ruth Givens.  I thoroughly enjoyed her class. 

More importantly, that paper changed me and it changed my future.

I was so convincing when telling and retelling that story about experience (to myself and later to my parents), that I ended up leaving ORU without a degree and headed home after the first semester ended.   My goal was to get down to business and get a job.

Gaping Void, Information vs Knowledge

Connecting the Dots

As shown in this great graphic on information vs knowledge, the really important thing to understand is that the raw information communicated as a part of education is just dots.

As I tell my own children now, more than 40 years later, you may not ever use some of the dots that you are being tested on now. Taking things to the knowledge level requires experience where you actually see how to “connect the dots”.

Einstein said it best “Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience.”

My life and my career validate this premise.  Of course, if I had wanted to be a Lawyer, I would have had to get a degree in Law (perish the thought!).  If I had wanted to teach, I would have needed a degree in Education.  There is no escaping that some professions simply require that piece of paper.

But what I learned, was that in the business world, the piece of paper was just a “tick box” on an application.   And since 1975 when I left ORU, I only filled out one application in my entire career.  And there was no such thing as an online application.  If you made it past the interview, you were in, degree or not.

At the time I left ORU, I wanted to work in accounting (what was I thinking?).

I went back to Milwaukee and landed at a division of Phillip Morris, Miller Brewing Company.  Although I doubt that Oral Roberts would have approved of the beer served on tap in the break room (really!) or the parent company’s primary product (cigarettes), it was a great place to get my feet wet, learning how to connect the dots between accounts receivable, accounts payable and the tax departments.  I had no idea of the economic contribution to each state that beer represented based on the taxes charged in each locale.  Who knew?

Later I moved into manpower planning and IT and met my very first mainframe.  It took up the same amount of space as the first floor of my current house and the room was so cold that I had to wear a jacket to work.  Since I had to do keypunching to get information into or out of it, I can’t say that we were very good friends.1c_jengatower-knowledgevsexperience

Knowledge versus Experience

Each step that I took in my career provided the pieces and parts necessary for the next job offer.  It is a little like building the tower that you see here.

I moved from Miller to a food brokerage company, then to a travel agency.  That was my start in the travel industry, where I have remained until today.

Along the way, I have garnered tons of knowledge that my counterparts had learned during their university experience.  From budgeting and economics to the intricacies of mergers and acquisitions.

Since I already had nearly 4 years experience by the time my peers graduated with their bachelor’s degrees, I was way ahead.  As far as I was concerned, Einstein was right.

Now, in today’s job market with online systems that filter out college dropouts, someone making those same choices may not be able to do as well as I did.  That is unless your name is Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

Applying this Life Hack

But I bring all of this up to ask you this.

  • Do you have a degree as an absolute requirement for your open positions?
  • Are you missing out on real talent and experience that could add real value to your company?

Have a talk with whoever sets your HR policies or whoever is screening applicants.  You may want to consider this truth according to Einstein.

Tomorrow we will talk about curiosity, Einstein’s next life hack.

Stay tuned.



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