The Enormous Value of Education in the Business World

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 17, Issue No. 9b
January 15, 2019

By Dan Coughlin


There is formal academic education, and then there is informal on-going education. The first one is important. The second one is much, much more important.

Defining Education and Why It Matters

The word education comes from the Latin word, educo, which means to draw out. Education means to draw out the best from the students, the teacher, and the subject.

Formal academic education too often focuses on the label, the grade, the GPA, the class rank, the schools you got into, and your resume. That misses the main point. The main point of education is draw out the best within yourself.

For ten years, 1987 – 1997, I was a high school math teacher. Here was a typical exchange between a student and me:

Student: Why are we learning Algebra?

Me: So people like me have a job.

Student: Where will we ever use this stuff in real life?

Me: You probably will never use this in real life.

Student: Then why are we learning it?

Me: To learn how to think logically. You will have to solve problems in real life. This class will help you learn how to solve problems. In Language Arts you will learn how to communicate both verbally and in writing. In History class you will learn from the past. In World Cultures and Geography you will learn about people around the world.

Student: Will this be on the test?

Me: Stop obsessing about your grade point average, and learn. (Followed by my growl.)

In other words, the real value of education is that when you draw out the best within you then you can apply what has been developed in many, many different ways.

Be an Educator

I don’t think of myself as a business person. I think of myself as an educator.

Multiple times every day I’m in conversations with business leaders about specific situations in their work. My hope in every one of those conversations is for us to two things. One, come up with a good solution for that particular situation. Two, to learn something that the person can apply in many other situations.

In other words, by working together we are hopefully drawing out the best we can from each other and from the particular topic that we are talking about, which can then be applied in many different scenarios for many years to come.

I encourage you to think of yourself in the same way. At work, be an educator.

Let’s say you are planning a ninety-minute meeting with six other people. You could run the meeting the way you’ve always run the meeting in the past, or you could focus on the meeting as a subject, and then work to draw out the best you can from the students (the other people at the meeting), the teacher (you), and the subject (meetings).

You could send out an email to the group and ask, “What are three things that you think make for a good meeting and why do you feel that way, and what are three things that you think make for a bad meeting and why do you feel that way?”

You could write down your own answers to those questions. You could collate the answers you receive from others. You could then discuss with the other members what could be done to make the meetings better.

In doing so, you might not only make your current meeting better, but you might have helped everyone in your group, including you, to make better meetings in the future wherever each of you go with your careers.

You could apply this same approach to other topics like strategy, branding, culture-building, innovation, annual performance reviews, and so on.

The Value of Education in the Business World

Instead of looking at your week as a series of tasks to be completed, think of it as a series of subjects to be studied. Every week take one subject and turn it into a learning situation. Discuss with other people how to make that task better. Learn from each other. Look at case studies from other groups and other companies on how they do that particular subject.

Draw out the best you can from the students, the teacher, and the subject so that everyone can apply what they’ve learned in multiple situations over multiple years. Now the task has been converted into something incredibly valuable.

Plus you will have helped people to learn how to learn, and that will have tremendous lasting value in and of itself.


Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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