Theory versus Practice


All theory evolves from practise and vice versa.  If Isaac Newton had not sat under the apple tree, the theory of gravity may not have been discovered by him.  Hence, it is quite clear that theory is enunciated based on practical experiments or experiences and the other way around.

However, what is amusing in life is that many of us become very strong on theory and find it difficult to practise.  For eg. I have met people who can give an excellent lecture on “Gandhism” and write outstanding articles explaining Gandhi’s thoughts and how they could be practised in life.  However, they find it difficult to live a Gandhian life themselves.  This dichotomy leads to lack of personal credibility.

In the organisation context, if I preach on how critical it is for all of us to be customer oriented but I do not have time even to meet my customers, it is a case of double speak.  This, in my view is the gap between theory and practise.  Today’s generation is not very keen to listen to your wisdom based on your experience.  They are more keen to follow your actions everyday at home and at work.  It may be great for me to give a lecture on how the camel is the best animal to trek on a desert.  Nobody will agree with me till I can demonstrate that I can do it in the desert heat and balance my way as the camel trudges along the desert.

The situation is not very different at home.  Your children may listen to your pep talks till they grow into adolescents.  But, as they grow further, they would prefer to follow what you do.  You may be an expert on how consumption of tobacco is harmful to human beings and may have published research papers on the subject.  But, if they see you smoking, they are more likely to get hooked to smoking rather than to spread the harmful effects of tobacco.

If we see this phenomenon at home and in the organisation, the situation is similar in communities and society at large.  No public icon – whether in politics, sports or cinema is admired for what they say on television.  Youngsters today follow them in their daily lives even through social media and decide to follow them only when they are convinced that their leader practises what he preaches.

So, all in all our personal credibility is built on our ability to bridge the gap between theory and practise.  If I have to summarise, it is better to practise before you preach.  Or preach only what you practise in your daily life.  It is applicable as a parent at home, as a leader at work or an icon in society.

Time to start practising before preaching is today !

S Ramesh Shankar

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