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Don’t Take The High Road

By on July 13, 2013 in

In the Theory versus Practice debate, DON’T TAKE THE HIGH ROAD!!!

We are a world of extremes. If you need any convincing, turn on your TV – any news channel will do. It won’t take long for a news story to showcase our polarizing nature. If you believe the preponderance of the media evidence, the “middle of the road” is a place no one wants to visit much less live. But why is the middle so repulsive?

The answer may lie in Paris… Paris, France.

If you’ve watched the Paris episode of Trashopolis on the Smithsonian Channel you know that it took centuries to transform Paris from the city of “filth and decay” to the most popular tourist destination in the world. More importantly, you may have caught that the phrase “take the high road” had its origins on the cobble stone roads of Middle Age Paris.

The “high road” referred to the paths furthest from the center of Paris’ cobble stone roads. As it turns out, back in the day, Parisian’s threw their waste out of their windows and onto their city streets. In an attempt to clean the city, cobble stone roads were built and slightly angled toward a center canal that would carry the filth away from the city. Therefore, taking the “high road” (avoiding the center) ensured a much “cleaner existence!”

In business there are two HIGH ROADS called Theory and Practice. As a proud graduate from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management (shameless plug), I can tell you that the jokes about MBAs and their purported inability to adapt to the real world (Practice) are endless (and mostly funny). Unfortunately, I have to agree that at times some of us MBA-types may fail to appreciate, respect and account for the chasm that often exists between theory and practice.

However, I know the COO of a $200M company who introduced himself to the consulting team hired by the company’s owner by boasting that he had not read a business book or article on his area of expertise (or any business topic) in the 20 years since he had graduated college.

To me, neither scenario is compelling. If the ultimate goal of those of us entrusted to lead organizations is to create effective, efficient and sustainable businesses, then it is our duty to exhaust all of the tools at our disposal (theoretical, practical or combinations of the two).

In the Theory versus Practice debate, DON’T TAKE THE HIGH ROAD!!!

Encourage thinking that facilitates solutions regardless of the tools. I use the term Intelligently Simple Execution because it’s more appealing than EMBRACE THE MIDDLE (think cobble stone roads). If all you have is a hammer – STOP – please purchase a drill if that’s what you really need!!

Time and time again I have witnessed this scenario play out in companies of all sizes and at all stages of the business life cycle. Some executives embrace “theory” and some embrace “practice.” And worst, some will use one to dismiss the other. But the most successful executives and managers I have met understand the power of finding the balance between Theory and Practice, between “new” and “tried and true,” between “out of the box” and “in the box.” And, most importantly, they understand that the ideal state, the Best Practice State, may not be immediately achievable or even desirable. Success requires doing and by leveraging the right combinations of Theory and Practice an organization can better strike the balance between “ready, FIRE, aim” and “paralysis by analysis.”

And, in case you are wondering, I have been fortunate to visit Paris and found the city and its people to be absolutely wonderful!

Continued success…


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