Academic vs. practical problems

I participated recently in a seminar on problem-solving, and I gave a lecture on complex IT projects at KU Leuven. The difference between academia and practice is fascinating.

In academia, it’s much more important to learn HOW to solve problems, rather than actually SOLVE them.

And all practical questions tend to have fuzzy vague answers; the answer is never “42”, or “white”. Only theoretical questions have clear solutions, which of course are applicable only in the case of a perfectly spherical cow in a vacuum. In practice, we face complex situations, impacted by uncertainty, ambiguity, butterfly effects, and black swans; we make assumptions and take subjective impulsive decisions; and there is no silver bullet. 

So why do we still need theoretical foundations and formal processes? 

Because theory provides the framework in which to manage practical projects, and proposes sets of potential tools to deploy for approximating potentially useful solutions.