Wisdom by Degrees
Earlier this week I read that the number of Master’s Degrees granted in recent years has skyrocketed. Yesterday, I heard a radio report about a business executive who said, “The Master’s Degree is today’s Bachelor’s Degree.”
Why the uptick in advanced degrees? Some blame it on the Great Recession. College graduates of the last three or four years have left school to enter a bleak job market. Some believed getting a Bachelor’s Degree has become so commonplace (watered down?) that a Master’s Degree would enhance their chances of landing a job; others felt another degree could win them a higher starting salary; and some felt that staying in school might, at the very least, give them another year before they had to look for employment that few were finding.
Whatever the reason, it is clear that there are many more job seekers (and holders) with advanced degrees these days. Does that make them the brightest guys and gals in the room? Sometimes, but not always or automatically.
Some of the qualities that contribute to a superior academic career―ability to comprehend information, communicate effectively, and meet deadlines―are important in business. Others―solitary academic research, the guidance of nurturing mentors, a structured task flow concentrated in a specific knowledge area, the ability to memorize arcane facts―may not have as much application in the everyday work world.
An advanced degree is an undeniable accomplishment, but not necessarily a predictor of or requirement for business success. And the lack of advanced academic credentials does not necessarily mean that the candidate or employee will not succeed or is unable to offer wise input or make good decisions under pressure.
Failing to tap into the ideas of your employees just because they don’t old college degrees or are not in the management ranks is a waste of a tremendous business resource. Good ideas can come from employees at any academic level; innovative problem-solvers exist on the plant floor as well as inside the carpeted offices.
One way to find employees who can be making a greater contribution to your success is to listen to them. One organization president would hold off-site breakfast meetings with three employees from different areas. Each month a different trio would meet with him at a local diner and talk about their lives outside the office, their families, the things they enjoyed doing on their own time, etc. Often they revealed talents and capabilities that were not readily apparent in the office.
Another approach is to conduct team-building exercises that put together people from various areas and organizational levels. In one such exercise, one of our administrative assistants “saved” an entire group of managers because she suggested choosing a pot as one of just three items they were allowed to take in a hypothetical snowstorm so they could melt snow into drinking water. Not one of the degree holders thought of it.
It’s been said that the difference between an educated person and an experienced one is that the person with experience looks both ways before crossing a one-way street. Of course, education is important. But, as the Scarecrow demonstrated in “The Wizard of Oz,” the lack of a degree does not preclude the ability to “think deep thoughts” and the possession of one does not guarantee it.