, Newburyport, MA


May 13, 2014

What is a well-educated person?

Society needs the well-educated to contribute. Except for rock stars and top-flight professional athletes, a good education helps personal prosperity as well as society.

My working career has required specialized education. As a professional sales engineer, I’ve sold services and equipment development, which involves matching up needs and capabilities to reach a mutually agreeable contract or agreement.

While discussing what’s needed to succeed, my boss observed that you must know a little more than the customer! OK, but not always possible. Some customers are well-informed on needed facts. To persuade such a customer, offer economically acceptable and technically viable solutions. You need to know what you are talking about. To sell a custom-welded aluminum boat to a customer undecided on building material, I need to be able to describe the advantages to him. The trade-off often boils down to a higher initial cost vs. long-term savings through lower maintenance, strength and performance.

An oldie, amusing quip compares the knowledge acquired by engineers vs. salesmen vs. purchasing agents. The engineer learns more and more about less and less until finally knowing everything about nothing. The salesman learns less and less about more and more until finally knowing nothing about everything. The purchasing guy learns more and more about more and more until eventually knowing everything about everything. Cute trivia, of course, but like all such simplifications there is a grain of truth.

Circa 1964 a piece describing a well-educated person appeared in The Gloucester Daily Times. The author compared specializing in fields such as engineering, art, music, a craft or a sport with liberal arts education that could be quite broad, including language, history, art, math and sciences. Along that line, one of my pet peeves is the belief of many that women have poor science and math aptitude. That is ridiculous. Math is size language and is needed by all. The author argued that a liberal arts educated person who often lacked a detailed knowledge of anything was poorly equipped to make good decisions on a lot of things. Obviously there are times when going to a specialist is the way to go.

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