Sunday, March 04, 2012

Self-education and the school of experience

You may find this next quote about self-education personally relevant, but then again, you may not. From Claude C. Hopkins' autobiography, My Life in Advertising... 

"...To poverty I owe the fact that I never went to college. I spent those four years in the school of experience instead of a school of theory.  I know nothing of value which an advertising man can be taught in college. I know of many things taught there which he will need to unlearn before he can steer any practical course."  

Having attended college (for a time), and from my own experiences and observations, I know that this passage rings true. You could substitute the words "advertising man" with the titles "artist", "writer", "economist", or "trader" and still get the same meaning.

You may have heard many entrepreneurs or autodidacts make similar remarks about the value of self-guided education and experience. You may also have heard many experienced, degreed professionals lamenting the need to unlearn much of what they were taught in universities. 

Someone mentioned Claude Hopkins in a book review I read today and I found my way to the aforementioned memoir from 1927. I thought I'd share it here with you. Hopefully, it will spur your thoughts on the value of formal education vs. "school of hard knocks".

Maybe we'll find some more chestnuts of wisdom inside. In fact, I'm sure we will, as the above passage came straight from chapter one! 

In the meantime, can you think of some important lessons (business, trading, creative, or otherwise) you've learned through self-guided education or your own passage through the school of hard knocks?   

Related posts

1. Marc Faber's advice to young people and the meaning of "success".

2. Michael Bigger: Starting Over.


Dr William J McKibbin said...

I certainly have respect for the school of "hard knocks" -- I have had more than a few during my 35 year career -- however, I would also caution that world-class skills in medicine, mathematics, and engineering are hard won "on the job" -- in today's global economy, world-class skills sell for premium wages, while experience is a less than certain way to obtain premium wages -- yes, the charismatic who are gifted at sales and leadership will always find opportunity abundant -- however, most "mortals" would be wise to take the education track leading to world-class skills -- now, I am not saying every major in college leads to "world-class" skills, far from it -- rather, I am describing those majors and disciplines where premium wages are essentially assured, including medicine and actuarial science -- other than that caveat, I agree that experience over time is useful -- but those who head to the university and take the "hard" courses are much more likely to get off to a running start toward financial success -- if your goal is not finanancial success, then disregard what I have written here -- but, if your goal is money, give yourself an edge by acquiring the best education money can buy in one of those preferred disciplines that earn premium wages in every and any economy around the world...

David Shvartsman said...

Thanks for sharing, William.

Your points about engineering and medical professions are well taken. I won't argue and I think most people would be afraid to trust an MD or engineer who hadn't gone through some kind of intensive training and practice + credentialing before going into business!

These are usually the type of professions that even current critics of "higher education" admit are/were better served w/ a university education.

At the same time, I'm also intrigued by James Altucher's thought on Twitter today in which he says:

"Look at almost EVERY area of US innovation in the past 200 yrs. It almost all comes from non-college graduates."

True/False? I hadn't thought to take the conclusion that far (I'm focusing more on the learning experience of the individual) but it's an interesting comment.