I was recently reminded of the difference between theorists and practitioners. Although both roles and beneficial to human and business advancement, we must be able to differentiate between the two and determine which voice we need to hear most clearly, given our circumstances.

The Theorists

Candidly, I love listening to theorists. Whether it is the many hours I’ve spent sitting in a classroom or replaying clips of Ted Talks, these folks broaden my horizons and help me see the ethereal in where I am and where I want to go. These are often academics, researchers, philosophers, theologians, visionaries, etc. and they deal in the abstract – a world of ideas, concepts, theorems, and possibilities. Tactical they are not, but they do give us a bigger picture into the concepts behind what we believe, what we do, why we do them, and what we aspire to be and do.

Reality and application are not the forte of theorists. Although many of their principles are based in experience, it is often the experience of another theorist, researcher or thinker. They have not necessarily come to their conclusions based on any personal involvement other than the study of the principals and concepts themselves, as they have only lived them vicariously through their research.

The theorists appeal mostly to those who live in the abstract, nonconcrete world of ideas as opposed to application. Presuming most folks can “connect the dots” between their ideas and what it takes to make them work, they often do not focus on what, in a hands-on sense, needs to be done in the “real world.” They can’t be accused of being formulaic or pragmatists, that’s for sure.

The Practitioners

These folks have dirty hands, or at least a little experiential residue under their fingernails, and there is nothing sterile or clinical about their strategies. It’s not that they don’t have theories. Rather, they come from the laboratory of personal familiarity, not something vicarious. In a crude analogy, they are parents, but they don’t write books on parenting, and they might not even read books on parenting. They are, however, great parents.

They don’t do much in the realm of position papers or dissertations – they practice and preach what they’ve learned from the trenches, ground zero (a term worth researching). Practitioners don’t discount the theorists but see the most value in them when these ideas actually work in the more concrete actualities of a person or a business.

Practitioners practice.  In other words, they are doers – and they focus on results and execution, no matter the theory that affirms or rejects their plan. They see what needs to be done and see little to philosophize or theorize about. It’s not that they aren’t strategic; they just don’t see the need to read 14.764 different opinions (theories) on what to do. They have lived their experience, and their insight isn’t academic or secondhand. Plan the work and work the plan – that’s what they do.

The Winner

Ok, there aren’t, in the most definitive sense, winners and losers here – both theorists and practitioners create value. However, there are certain situations in life and business where I’m am turning to a practitioner.  When I have a tooth ache and need the chomper extracted, I don’t want to go to someone who theorizes on extraction methodologies. I want someone who has pulled more than a mouthful of teeth in their career.

So when I’m looking to design, implement and execute a staffing MSP program, give me the practitioner any day. Yes, I will continue to study and learn from forward thinking theorists in almost every area of my life (and our society, and business, and…) but when it comes to managing staffing suppliers and processes, I’m looking for someone who has been there and done that…and has the t-shirt to prove it. I’m looking for the person who can say they just haven’t studied this plan but they have actually participated in it and its success.

In other words, if I’m building a staffing MSP, I’m looking for someone with slightly dirty fingernails.

Want to learn more? Please contact Linden Wolfe, PHR, CCWP at lwolfe@excelsiorstaffing.com