Theory & Practice: which side are you on?

What is important? Rather what is more important? Theory? or Practice?? or both?? Another question where the snake eats it’s own tail. And forces us to go round and round the mulberry bush.

But there is no gainsaying the fact that people are divided into 2 classes: Some who love the esoteric and Some who would any day prefer the comfort of actual practice, rather than theoretical ramblings. The Philosophers & the Practitioners, if you will!

These are different approaches and mindsets : and it is perfectly ok to prefer one side over the other; as that is how you are. Some of us are most enamored by the pure sciences and theories. We take great pride in debating alternate models. And have no discomfort if some fundamental contradictions are not resolved. Debates and alternate modelling is their trip in life.

And then, there are some of us who are very quick to make short shrift of theories. Here are the people who say “enough talk already; let us get down to business”. They love to roll their sleeves, get involved and contribute to the action. They are not happy sitting in front of blackboards or computer screens. Rather they would like to jump in the fray; and they get their thrills, from the hustle and bustle action environments where they can monitor and fire away from all cylinders. Fast and Furious to the core!!!!

What type of a person are you?

There is of course the not so pure strain of third set of people who are comfortable with conceptualizing and executing; they span the spectrum of theory and practice. These are more heuristic thinkers who can comfortably straddle both sides of the fence and are ready to equally focus on thinking and acting.

Pure sciences like Physics and Chemistry as well as streams like Astronomy and Mathematics are naturally attuned to theorizing. Most progress in these branches of knowledge has been due to theorists who could manipulate concepts and build models and through that route learn more and more about the subject under discussion. Har Gobind Khurana’s work on demystifying the DNA (carrying genetic codes and controlling the cell synthesis of the proteins) is a case in point where theorizing is pre-eminent.

A sportsman like Farook Engineer ( remember that opener?) or Mr MS Dhoni are the action oriented folks who have no time or patience for theory. They will attack the windmills a la Don Quixote ready to be taken to the stars, or cast into the mud. But sitting on the horse and wondering is not their cup of tea. That is why Mr Dhoni is called “the Finisher”.

APJ Abdul Kalam in his role as the DRDO & ISRO scientist to me typifies the third group. Theory blended with down to earth thinking and practice. Experimentation. Risk taking. Learning from mistakes. Carrying on. And with the achievement of the goal ever ready to think and aim for the next target. His books “Wings of Fire” and “India 2020” also share his vision and his aspirations for all of us. I was fortunate to hear him talk at an World Federation of Training & Development Organizations and his speech on how to develop people would have put a number of HR people present in the Ashoka Hall to shame. When I got a chance to express to him gushingly my admiration for what he spoke his simple reply was : My speech is on my website: study it and implement the ideas in the organization you represent and see how you can help other companies learn from my ideas and your experiences. Theory and Practice fuse in such a man.

So again which way do you swing? Theory? or Practice?

Of course success in today’s complicated world requires a proper blend of both. This is where the words of James Cash Penney ring out true and loud : “Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless”. (Isn’t it interesting and ironic that JC Penney’s middle name was Cash?). So practice, practice, practice. And the result will be perfect.

Enjoy the experience : vikas