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Posted: November 08, 2011

Teaching surfing from the beach

Theory vs. practice: there's a big difference

Todd Ordal

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is!"
                                                                                                                             -Yogi Berra

I took a surfing lesson years ago in Hawaii with two of my kids. The instructor got out in the water with us to demonstrate how to get up on the board and catch a wave. What if he'd stayed under the thatched roof of the beach bar, sipping on a Corona and just telling us how to surf?! "Imagine you're a wave!" and "Be the surfboard!" sound cool but provide little guidance.

How about a flight instructor handing you airplane keys and saying, "I've never flown one of these things, but I've read the manual from cover to cover. Keep the shiny side up, and I'll give you some feedback after you land."

Are you listening to advisors who only know how to surf or fly in theory?

Before the economic meltdown, I went to a rubber chicken dinner. The keynote speaker was a "successful" entrepreneur who'd sold his company for a large pile of money. I was extremely surprised by how young he was, but he started speaking and seemed very bright and quick on his feet.

After some dubious answers to questions where he held court on everything from building an organization to motivating employees to investing, someone asked him some specifics about his company. It turns out that he had a revenue stream that wouldn't pay for a typical trip to Costco and had never been profitable. I stood up and left. This guy was teaching surfing from the beach!

In theory, you should be able to fly an airplane by just reading a book. In practice, you'll end up in a twisted pile of smoking rubble.
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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at,  303-527-0417 or

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Readers Respond

Elizabeth--I went through Sandler training years ago so appreciate the title! (I still fall off my bike on ocassion....) David--Some good, some not. I guess when I go in for my 7th knee surgery, I'll go back to the guy who's done a few hundred of them! Thanks Liz! Certainly smart people can expand their competencies and I believe that I have more than one club in the golf bag, but there is a limit! I agree that consistent action is the hard part!! By Todd Ordal on 2011 11 09
You're right and it's funny - but it's not! If they haven't been there and done that, how can they preach it? Have you read the Sandler book "You Can't Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar"? Same idea. Thanks for your funny - and not funny - quick hit on accountability. By Elizabeth Austen on 2011 11 08
- our national unemployment rate will go up another point as a million self-help authors/speakers go on the bread line. Easily 9 of 10 experts are charlatans and Todd has done a service by writing this. I'd like to read the unedited version. By David E on 2011 11 08
GREAT article Todd. Action and practice creates results. Anyone can read a book to understand how to sell more, lose weight, build wealth etc....the had part is taking consistent action. Thanks for this mornings wisdom. By liz wendling on 2011 11 08

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