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This article is a collaboration by Prajakta Bapat and Adam Hoots. Prajakta is graduating with her Master’s degree in CSM from Clemson University in May 2023 and Adam has just started his second semester in the same program. This collaboration comes as Prajakta is transitioning from an academic mindset to a practitioner’s mindset as she goes to work with DPR Construction. Meanwhile, Adam is the opposite as he is transitioning from a practitioner mindset (22 years in the construction industry) to that of an academic. The learning curve has been steep (and slippery) for Adam, and this article is a way of easing into the understanding of a whole new world.

The Two Mindsets

During the authors’ time together in graduate school, they stumbled upon two mindsets with which they and their peers sought knowledge and expertise in different fields of work. The two mindsets being that of a practitioner and an academic person. The authors realized that both perspectives had their own similarities and differences. However, understanding the comparison between the two would help other people, including themselves, determine the most suitable approach to be used for their personal growth and development. Through exploration and a better understanding of these two mindsets, the authors seek to better transition into each other’s environments.

What is a practitioner’s mindset (PM)?

A Practitioner’s mindset (PM) is heavily focused on production, especially when it comes to driving actions and/or results. An individual with a PM identifies constraints ahead of time and clears the roadblocks to production as fast as possible. PM people are oftentimes heavily focused on the process and getting things done. A PM consistently focuses on being productive, not busy. Instead of spending time on the small details that don’t accomplish a lot, a PM believes in moving forward based on his/her knowledge and expertise. The authors believe that most people would define the space a practitioner lives in as “the real world!”

Most things can be placed in the box of academia; however, there are some things that don’t fit. A perfect example being material tolerances. Material tolerances are very real and exist every day in real life, but you can't account for it in a perfect world. A practitioner facing “the real world” must deal with such harsh and at times ugly challenges. Therefore, the practitioners often get stuck with just trying to figure out what to do with that half inch gap?!

A practitioner mindset (PM) is a way of thinking that is focused on applying knowledge and skills in a practical way to solve real-world problems. Which is why, Practitioners often make statements by drawing directly from personal opinions / observations / experiences. Individuals with a PM tend to approach problems in a more hands-on way, and they are often more interested in finding solutions that could be implemented rather than conducting experiments or analyzing data. PM mindsets are more focused on concrete results, or solutions and less on the process or way the solution was discovered.

What is an academic's mindset (AM)?

An academic mindset (AM) leans more towards finding solutions in a more thorough and methodical way. An AM focuses on conducting thorough research and gaining as much knowledge as possible in a specific field. Academic mindsets tend to be more theoretical and at times even abstract. Academics analyze the entire situation around a particular problem, try to find out the root cause, the chain-of-events, and all the little details that may not necessarily be required to find a real-world solution. An individual with an AM would never do things or make statements solely based on their opinions. They feel the need to back it up with literature or by analyzing experts’ (Academics or Practitioners) opinions. An AM is mostly interested in researching or learning in depth and are usually motivated by their goal of increasing their own knowledge for knowledge's sake.

The differences in mindsets

The key difference documented during a brainstorming session between the authors was the approach to problem-solving and decision-making. Individuals with an AM are more likely to engage in deep analysis or experimentation, while practitioners are more likely to focus on finding practical solutions for problem-solving. People with an AM will decide after a complete and thorough analysis of the problem and make a decision that seems the most logical. Whilst the practitioner may follow the same approach, he/she is bound to rely on their gut and make quick decisions. Both decisions have the same end goal of success in mind but the reasons behind making the decision differ. Oftentimes, PM people will make decisions faster than that of AM people.

Another difference that was observed between the two mindsets is the intentional focus on creating new knowledge versus applying existing knowledge in a practical setting. People with an AM are highly exploratory and/or theoretical. AM people’s primary purpose is to expand the boundaries of knowledge and deepen their understanding of the world. People with a PM are usually solving immediate problems with practical solutions. Practitioners are more likely to rely on their experience than to experiment with something new. This leads to academics who are more likely to question the status quo and seek new and innovative approaches to problem-solving.

Each mindset values knowledge from a different perspective. Practitioners view knowledge as a means to an end or a tool that can be used to solve a particular problem. Whereas academics view knowledge as the end all be all. The pursuit of knowledge is simply to obtain the knowledge itself. In the end, both mindsets are chasing success; however the journey that is taken to get to success can vary based on where you gained the most education.

An example of thinking

The perfect example of a practitioner vs academic mindset is when Adam received the request from Lean Construction Blog for an article. He asked Prajakta to partner with him and Prajakta went into full research mode. Adam’s plan was to sit down and brainstorm some points and deliver the blog that you see. Prajakta’s plan was to turn this article into a research project and study our thoughts now, then return within a year to better understand each other’s perspective. Only time will tell how this journey ends!! The authors have agreed to come together periodically throughout the course of their newfound careers to help better define what they’re calling the ‘Pracademic’ Mindset!

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Adam began his career in the construction industry as a plumber's helper and then as a red-line architect’s helper while attending the University of South Florida. Over the past 20 years, he has steadily advanced his career and has held a variety of roles within the industry. Adam has successfully completed more than $1.5 billion in pre-construction and construction services. Adam is proud to continue his service to the construction industry through his coaching business Construction ACHE Solutions.

Prajakta graduated from Clemson University in 2023 with a Masters in Construction Management. She is currently a project engineer at DPR Construction.