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School Versus the Real World

Back To SchoolMany years ago when the movie Back To School originally came out I remember laughing quite hard when Rodney Dangerfield’s character Thornton got NASA to do his Astronomy homework for him. If memory serves me correct, he also got the a famous author write an essay about his own book for his English class as well. Of course this was funny, how could it not be.

Although funny, according to the academic world this is wrong. This is what’s called cheating! Having someone else do your work for you. It’s a simple black and white case, he didn’t do his own work, someone else did it for him, therefore he cheated on his assignments. This is looked down upon, and it’s easy to see why. If you don’t do the work you’ll never learn the material. Very simple.

Now in real life the opposite is true. You need to do some of the work, but those that get ahead generally have teams do many of their work for them. For example, if you buy real estate, you often get your real estate agent to process the paperwork for purchase of the property, you don’t do it yourself. You get a mortgage broker to prepare the financing for you. You might also get a lawyer to do some of the work. Maybe you also have a property manager to manage your property. In the academic world, this would be considered cheating because someone else is doing the work for you.

In business the same is true, otherwise you’re really a self employed person (or employee)! If you’re employed right now, what are you doing? Someone is paying you to do their work for them. Think about it! Every employee is doing work for someone else. In the academic circle, this would also technically be considered cheating.

The reality is that the academic world teaches us to do everything ourselves, to learn how to do everything ourselves. To balance our check books ourselves, to run our finances ourselves. In the real world, and especially in business world, the opposite is true. In business we’re often thought to get a team to help us. And I can attest that starting a business without an initial team in place is much more difficult. A team can make a big difference. Getting a good accountant, a good lawyer, and so on really does helps. But what’s more, you generally need members on your team that have specific skills that you might be lacking such as a graphics design, sales, marketing, software development, team management, accounting, etc.. Getting a software product like LandlordMax out the door requires more knowledge and skill than any one person can have.

The other week when the movie Back To School played as a rerun on TV, which by the way was the inspiration for this article, it really made me think about this. I realized that since I’ve starting my company LandlordMax over four years ago that my reality has changed. Yes the movie was still good, but what really caught me off guard is that I no longer found this joke as funny. Actually quite the opposite, I think it was a great move by Rodney’s Dangerfield’s character Thornton. It really showed his business acumen! He couldn’t be successful in business without assembling at least one good team, which is why he quickly went ahead and got NASA to do his Astronomy homework.

In some way, it really made me appreciate the difference in realities different people have. Why we don’t all think the same. Successful business people often look at assembling a good team first whereas the average person tries to do everything themselves because this is what they’ve always been thought. There’s nothing wrong with this, but without leveraging other people’s skills and time, you can’t get further ahead than the number of hours you have in the day. It’s a simple reality, a simple difference in the way we perceive our worlds, but it has a large implication in how we’ll go about living our lives.

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  •     Rob J
    · January 25th, 2007  · 12:18 am  · Permalink

    It’s not really cheating because someone else has done the work for you, it’s cheating because you’re claiming the work as your own.

    When was the last time you had a lawyer draw up a contract, then claim to have done it yourself?

  •     Steph
    · January 25th, 2007  · 11:05 am  · Permalink

    Hi Rob,

    In that respect, you’re right you won’t claim you drew up the contract. But in another respect you will claim you bought the property, you did your due diligence, you found the great deal (was it your Realtor?), you made a profit from it, and so…

  •     Michael
    · January 25th, 2007  · 11:31 am  · Permalink

    The difference in the real world is that you’re not expected to do the work yourself. The concept of “cheating” goes out the window once the rules against it are thrown away.

    Once you’re out of school, only results matter.

  •     Nguyen
    · January 29th, 2007  · 8:31 pm  · Permalink

    I am a software engineer, and I do not pay others to build the modules I am assigned to work on by my boss. It is my job, my duty. I am paid because I can engineer products, not because I can gather a team to engineer them for me (that is the job of my boss).

    Same as in the academic world. When I was in school, my job is to study, and thus I was not supposed to pay others to study for me. If I am to learn about designing software, I must design it myself, not to have others to do that for me.

    So, the real world is no more cheating than the academic world.

  •     Steph
    · January 29th, 2007  · 10:36 pm  · Permalink

    Hi Nguyen,

    I think I might not have conveyed my point here as well as I had hoped because it seems to have come across wrong. What I was trying to get at is not that we cheat as employees, but that perhaps the academic world should look more at how the real world works and promote collaboration and teamwork a lot more! That in the real world working with others will often get you much further than trying to do everything yourself.

    Also, it’s my personal opinion that not everyone is skilled at teamwork. For some people it comes naturally, but for a lot of others it a learned skill. On a side note this is something that I personally found woefully inadequate in my academic life that luckily I managed to get on my own.

    In any case, I wasn’t trying to say that people are cheating by working, but rather that academia is not right in considering collaboration and teamwork on assignments cheating.

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