Education: It Doesn’t Come from School

It’s back to school season, and as my son left the house today, it got me thinking about the topic of education. Let’s start with my favorite thing, a quote:

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

Preach it Mr. Twain, preach it. As a father of a high school student who has great dreams, this is not a trivial comment to me. There are some areas of study where schooling is not just good, it is vital. Doctors, lawyers, educators and engineers have years of training needed to perfect their craft. However, for most, schooling is, as Socrates noted, “the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Life, my good friends, is what “fills your vessel.”

All the studies in the world cannot prepare you for what life will throw. And as our world morphs at a faster and faster rate, that schmancy education we get becomes a floor for opportunity, not necessarily a pathway to the CEO’s office. Because the nuances and curveballs of every form of business today are constantly changing what we do, how we do it, and why.

Now I have a confession to make: I have a liberal arts degree. I was not a marketing or economics major, I didn’t go to film school, and I do not have an MBA. But in my career, I have headed marketing for several major corporations, have been a publicist and very large event developer, and have produced a very large array of media projects (and a few other “careers” sprinkled in along the way). What has allowed me to do this is a passion for learning and thirst for growth. Hard work doesn’t hurt either.

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So with that, I direct the following comment to the C-suites and decision makers of the world:

Do not look at someone’s degree to determine what they are made of and what they can do.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many that others wouldn’t work with. They were too junior, or didn’t have the experience that was perceived as prerequisites for success. But in almost every case, those people became indispensable to me and my ability to be successful. Why? Because they wanted opportunity vs. feeling entitled to it. They thirsted for knowledge and mentorship, and they brought in real life skills that more than made up for what they lacked in formal education.

John Mackey, Sheldon Alelson, Larry Young, Mark Zuckerberg, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Larry Ellison, Frank Lloyd Wright, the list goes on. All are without fancy degrees and all have done pretty well for themselves in the entrepreneurial world. So too might the guy in your marketing team who doesn’t hold an MBA, but knows every trend in social media development, or the woman in your PR department who is the very best closer you have and has leadership qualities off the charts. They are your future if you choose to take a risk.

I am not here to say that degrees are worthless. I admire those who challenge themselves and strive for academic excellence. But especially in this fast-moving economy, the best and the brightest may very well be ones that come from less traditional paths. Education isn’t defined by your schooling, and neither should your strategy for success. That is the message I gave my son this morning on the way out the door.


Patrick Jager is the CEO of strategic advisory firm CORE Innovation Group and a thought leader in media, communications and business development.

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