Theory vs Reality

–Theory - how things should be – Reality - how things are! Is there a balance?

This is a portion of a talk I give to businesses, organizations, colleges, and universities.

After 4 years in the military, I graduated from college full of ideas, theories, and best practices. Then I entered the world and discovered there is Theory and then there is Reality. This raised the question of whether intelligence or imagination is more important for success?

Theory is how things should be. Reality is how things are. Theory says follow the established best practices. Reality says best practices are a point in time – they are not gospel. History is littered with organizations that religiously followed their best practice all the way to extinction (Western Electric, Blockbuster, Sun Microsystems, etc.).

Theory says follow the tried-and-true methods. Reality says what we should be looking for is the next practice that differentiates us from the herd. The most successful organizations challenge the best practice. They say, “What if we did this?” and then surround themselves with people who have been where they want to go.

Intelligence, education, and theory are important. After all, those who choose to ignore history will often make the same mistakes over and over.

My best education, however, did not occur in school. I was a military medic. A 20-year-old E-4 (that is three stripes for non-military people). I had just finished an assignment and had a meeting with my Chief Master Sergeant and the Colonel who was the hospital commander. They said to me, “We want you to run the pediatric clinic.” This clinic saw 90 sick children a day and the medical doctor in charge was not the easiest person to be around.

Being in the military, I said, “With all due respect, doesn’t this position usually go to someone with a higher rank?” They both acknowledged it did but said, “We believe you can do it.” I then asked, “Again, with all due respect did none of them want this job?” The Colonel laughed and said “That too, but we believe you can handle this role. Oh, and by the way you have no staff, but don’t panic. We have set up a meeting with the Red Cross to get volunteers to work with you.”

My thoughts were this is a losing proposition. A difficult doctor, 90 sick children and their parents and volunteers are my only staff! My Chief said, “Here is your challenge sergeant, these are volunteers. They don’t have to come back or show up or even give you a reason. You must train them on why we do what we do, how we are going get things done and what you are going to do to support them.” No pressure there, right?

Within six months we had a waiting list of volunteers who wanted to work in the pediatric clinic. At 20 years old I had to learn how to build processes, collaborate with volunteers, and delegate roles/procedures to ensure 90 sick children as well as their often scared and frustrated parents received the best possible experience.

Why was this my best education? Because I had to find ways to work with a large bureaucracy that makes it nearly impossible to get things done. This is not limited to the military. We see the same situation in corporate America, in academia, in government at all levels, and as business owners. At times, we must become like Radar, from the television show M.A.S.H. and use our imagination to get the job done.

How did this work post-military? After college, I worked for a high-tech company and was assigned to compete for multi-million-dollar projects. This required proposing complete solutions. My company only made equipment, so I drew upon my military experience to attract the necessary components such as database, network, digital communication, and industry experts.  I had to convince them why they should work with my plan, how we would build the processes and procedures, and what was needed for us to win.

We created a two-tier program. We had people who were tasked with identifying and quickly qualifying an opportunity. For the lack of a better name, we called them “bird dogs.” Their job was to get the bird in the air. The second tier was the “Tiger Team” which was the people with the expertise to execute the plan. We secure several major projects across multiple states.

Intelligence and knowing the best practice mattered, but using our imagination created the next practice that led to success. As the great philosopher Mike Tyson once said: “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.”  


Frank Zaccari
Frank Zaccari
Business/Organizational Development Expert - Key Note Speaker - 4x Best Selling Author - Radio and Roku TV host of Life-Altering Events and Featured Contributor BIZCATALYST 360°, US Air Force veteran. He is also the co-founder of the Wellness Connection (a series of wellness clinic that will be launched soon) Frank Zaccari- 35 years - Sr. Executive & business owner, a dynamic, engaging, and entertaining Keynote Speaker, 4x bestselling Author, Business Adviser, ROKU TV Show Host, VoiceAmerica host of Life-Altering Events, wrote and published 8 books, leads a workshop at Arizona State University; mentors Veterans, is a mentor and judge at University of California Entrepreneurship Academy. His "Business & Personal Secrets" series has produced three #1 bestselling books in twelve months. The most recent bestseller "Business & Professional Secrets for Getting Unstuck" (May 2022) is a follow-up to his other best-selling books in the series "Business Secrets for Walking on Water" (May 2021) and "Business & Personal Secrets for Avoiding Relationship Landmines." (November 2021). Frank provides long-term consulting with midsize companies to sustain success, scale, fund growth, pivot (dynamic change), and significantly improve profitability in a positive business environment. He re-enforces this consulting by providing both on-site and virtual workshops which expand on his Business and Personal Secrets book series. In addition, Frank and his team, are running public relations and marketing campaigns for authors, including ghostwriting services if necessary. This program has generated seven consecutive #1 bestselling books.

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    • Just saw an interview between Howard Cosell and Ali. What a quick-footed wit Ali had in those moments. He listened to Cosell spouting off about something and then replied, “If I had a lower IQ, I might be able to understand what you just said.” The audience erupted.

  1. Frank, that is a great story and message. We usually don’t know what we can do until we have to do something. Some of my most rewarding experiences working in the educational publishing industry for 35+ years were when I was given only the rudiments of an assignment. Figure. It. Out.