Practical knowledge can be defined as “knowledge attained through action” while theoretical knowledge is “knowledge attained through established facts or thoughts.” One of my favorite quotes on this matter is from the recently deceased Yogi Berra, an American professional baseball catcher, manager, and coach. Yogi was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. In addition, he was famous for his paradoxical quotes.
We are living in exponential times and knowledge is at the center of it. By the time you graduate, the skills you learned in college will be outdated and it does not stop there. Before you even feel like you have mastered your current job, you will probably transition to a new job or even a new career. The typical person changes jobs 10 to 15 times during his or her working career. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that people born between 1957 and 1964 held an average of 11.7 jobs from ages 18 to 51. Training will be your constant companion, and your ability to learn, apply, and relearn will be your most important skill.
The first lesson in practical knowledge is that you must make room for it. As we attain theoretical knowledge through formal education, we can get caught up in a false sense of thinking that our learning is complete. Do not fall into that trap. You will really understand that the first time you go out to the field you are side-by-side with your colleagues who are pushing the boundaries. They tackle obstacles and challenges every day. It becomes part of their nature; it becomes natural and instinctive. That is what you want to learn from them. It is important to remember that “openness and humility” are the real signs of intelligence. People will not share their valuable knowledge and experience with you otherwise.
Knowledge begins as practical experience—someone discovers a new and improved process or procedure and then it is documented and tested through time until it becomes truth or fact. Technical knowledge is no different. Technical knowledge is being improved constantly through sharing, training, experience, and identifying a gap, need, or a better way to accomplish something.
Practical knowledge is in a state of constant evolution, especially in the economic climate that the energy industry is in. As we speak, someone has a new and better way to do something because this economy demands it. Practical knowledge follows a path that only you can determine. That is the great part of it: No one tells you what is right or wrong, and there is no beginning or end. Training is also evolving and it is changing faster than any other area in education. Knowledge impacts the industry, and training is the vehicle to capture and distribute it.
As a learning specialist, I have worked with many technical subject matter experts to document and capture their practical technical knowledge. It is important to design the processes, knowledge, and procedures so that it can be shared with others through training. It may be a quick lunch-and-learn, informal training session, instructor-led class, or a virtual webinar. These are just a few of the ways learning is facilitated.
Participating in the sharing of information can create learning experiences for yourself and others. Everyone has practical knowledge to share, so share, advance, and document it.
One of the most important ways to attain this knowledge is through networking. Create relationships and opportunities to talk to people who are in your current role and people who are in other roles, disciplines, or industries. Join a group or chapter, and become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Practical knowledge is always in a state of discovery, especially when you transition from a role or an industry to another. As an example, I share my experience working with an engineer from the manufacturing industry who transitioned to oil and gas. His expertise was in multiwellpad drilling. He noticed that there was very little standardization from location to location and even within the same area, so he wanted to identify and establish standards for it. He wanted to create an environment in which engineers from different places around the world within the organization could share their methods and practical knowledge. He wanted to capture the information electronically so we could see where the areas of commonality were in order to establish standards and best practices. We worked together to facilitate a learning environment for everyone to share their practical knowledge. This included activities to enhance communication and learning on a platform that allowed viewing presentations from around the world. We compiled questions and recorded their answers into a database to be analyzed.
Your personal discovery will include reading and keeping up with current trends through magazines, books, Internet, and more. Read about what others have done, how they are facing their transitions, and what they have learned. Even when you are tasked with performing something you have never done before, get all the information you can from existing resources. Learn the lingo, the issues, and how others have addressed them.
Training and attaining knowledge are not one and the same. Anyone can attend a training class and say they attended, without attaining the knowledge. One is an opportunity and the other is internalizing the knowledge into your processes on a regular basis.
I have come to believe through my transitional experiences that to fully integrate knowledge you must go through three stages: being open to learn, finding a way to apply the knowledge, and integrating it into your routine. If you cannot integrate it right away, keep a list of things you have learned and ideas that you can try at a later time. One useful method is to employ Outlook notes to keep a list of ideas that you want to address at a later time and put a short description or link to ensure you will not forget. As you learn and experience new roles and careers, you will start connecting the dots; if you do not jot down your ideas and knowledge, they could be lost.
As was mentioned previously, you will need to make room for this new knowledge and its possibilities as it relates to you in your current role and as you transition from job to job. If you are going to get the most from the average 11.7 transitions in your career, put together a plan. Identify lateral industries that use similar skills and that are interrelated; this will enable an easier transition and a more purposeful one.
The transition plan that you put together is like a huge puzzle. Like how you begin putting together a puzzle with the obvious pieces, begin your transitional plan by enhancing your transitional skills. These are the skills you will need no matter where you are in your career, such as time management, communications, and leadership. On the technical side, think about software, practices, procedures, tasks, and tools that can be used across disciplines or industries. As you connect the pieces and find pockets of knowledge and skills, the picture of the puzzle becomes clearer. Look at the job descriptions and start putting together a rough draft of at least three résumés in the areas you see yourself transitioning into. These three résumés should be focused on that industry or role. Any training you attend or practical knowledge you have should enhance one of those résumés.
Another useful tip is to start a book at the table of contents and pick an area that catches your interest; it could be in the middle or at the end. Read it and go to the next area that sparks your curiosity. This will help you to understand and practice how to apply random knowledge and connect the dots. Be confident in finding your path. When a transition does occur, you are that much more prepared.
When was the last time you were given an opportunity to do something you have never done before? Were you prepared? When your scope widens to learning, you will be able to face new challenges and you will be prepared. You will have resources, a network, and a reference to initiate a new job, role, or project. You will understand how to start and have the confidence and the skills that you will need to seize this new challenge. Also remember that this does not happen overnight. Be patient and do not be afraid to try new things or start at the bottom because you will advance faster.
Practical knowledge moves across your whole lifespan. Be prepared to learn from young and old; never underestimate someone because of his or her age. They may not do things the same way; it may be a better way or you may have an opportunity to share your knowledge with someone else.
How about applying what you learn? With the network you have, seek out people that will let you try new things. Try on-the-job shadowing or training. Let people know what you want to do and work together. Infuse people around you with the excitement of possibilities.
Remember that a possibility is much more powerful than an expectation. A possibility creates momentum and excitement while an expectation can create frustration because of its limited nature. Concentrate on the things that are important and in your control and the rest can wait. The things that elude you will eventually find their way into your environment.
Look at the full picture of the practical knowledge within and around you and see in which other ways it can be applied. Find the principles behind the practical knowledge and you will be able to apply them anywhere, anytime. A principle is constant and guides you; it is part of the system of nature, and nature is all around us.
Martha Apodaca is the founder of CM Learning Consulting. She has more than 20 years’ experience in learning and development in academic and corporate arenas, spanning technology, finance, and the oil and gas industry. Apodaca is currently consulting for Linn Energy, responsible for integration training during acquisitions and mergers across various departments. She has also consulted with Microsoft, Whiteblox, University of Houston, Lone Star College, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Cameron.