The relevance and preference to practical knowledge or applied sciences notwithstanding, professionals underestimate the importance of theoretical knowledge at their peril. Theories are actually codification of time-tested observations and best practices, and establishing industry expertise requires a thorough knowledge of the theoretical basis of the subjects connected to the industry.
A degree, diploma, or some other certification related to the subject goes a long way in establishing competence, but it may not be enough. For instance, a human resource professional might have learned theories related to motivation and dynamics of interpersonal relationships as part of organizational behavior course in colleges but might not have learned industrial relations or the laws and theories related to employee-employer relationships. A true professional requires complete knowledge, regardless of whether such knowledge finds direct application in one’s current duties or not.
The best bet is a degree or diploma in the profession, and if not, at least a part-time or online course to acquire certification. Even when knowledge that the certification provides is commonplace, certification is a sign of legitimacy. This however applies only when the institute or organization that issues the certificate is of some repute and holds recognition within the industry as such. Online courses are a dime a done; most of such courses issue certificates in exchange for money, and such certifications may actually do more harm than good–because future employers can see through the hollowness of such certifications.
What separates a professional from a bright student is the ability to apply theoretical knowledge into practice. Very often those who achieve within the university will falter once working in the industry, as they cannot cope with the change. The university or classroom is a stable and controlled environment. The real world is unstable, fluid, and requires much improvisation. Successful professionals use experience to relate practice to theory rather than let theoretical considerations hamper their performance. For instance, a successful manager would base his negotiation style on a win-win approach, but would remain flexible to adapt even unconventional negotiation styles not taught in classrooms if the situation so demands, rather than remain adamant on the win-win approach since the theory says that is the best approach.
Ways to acquire practical knowledge outside one’s work domain include talking to colleagues and friends, attending workshops where industry experts share their experience, reading books, journals, and interviews that codify best practices, and attending industrial tours arranged by professional bodies and colleges.
Above all, successful professionals learn from their mistakes. They do not let failure affect them, and rather consider it a learning experience. They understand the underlying reasons for failure, in order to raise their awareness and make amends, or prevent recurrence.
Regardless of the level of theoretical knowledge or practical insights, updating knowledge and skills is indispensable for success. The world moves at a fast pace. New research and approaches break down established paradigms at a much faster pace than before. Successful professionals keep abreast with such changes and remain nimble to change their style of functioning accordingly. Nothing demonstrates this fact of life more than computers, especially internet. While initially a productivity tool, people who did not or could not adapt to the computer and internet remain unemployable today. People who refuse or cannot add to emerging competencies such as e-commerce, mobile computing, and social media networking may be in a similar situation tomorrow.
Ways to acquire knowledge of changes and latest developments are reading newspapers, professional journals, and reputable websites, attending meetings of professional bodies, participating in web and other forums, talking to experts in the field, and attending refresher courses and training programs: In short, remain active.
The thrust from a good professional to an industry leader requires a proactive approach. One bold way to effect a transition is by applying experience to undertake research and set the rule for others to follow. A more common approach is by disseminating knowledge through blogs, forums, or even by writing books. Such efforts serve as the best proof of one’s knowledge and skills and allow others to make such an assessment. Success depends on the consistency, and authenticity of such efforts. For instance, people hardly recognize a person who populates all forums for a week and then fades off, or someone who merely copy-pastes from textbooks. It’s better, rather, to strive to participate on a consistent basis and make sure input adds value to the discussions and offers insights not found in textbooks.
Take decisions considering the big picture or long-term implications. For instance, a new job might provide much-needed better salary or flextime options, but might relate to an area of expertise not connected with one’s key strengths; this may result in being cut off from a painstakingly developed professional image. For instance, a marketing professional taking up a copywriting job, though still connected would not have the opportunity to apply the acquired marketing skills or add to the experience and stake claim to be a marketing head-honcho. Factor such indirect costs before making the change.
Finally, never underestimate general competencies such as good communication skills, time management skills, willingness to share knowledge, remaining self-motivated, commitment, patience, perseverance, persistence, and other traits. Such requirements are evergreen, the basic requirements for establishing industry expertise.
Source: Author’s experience
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