Why Go to College (3)

It’s true that the master’s and doctorate led to more promotions in the government. I was inducted into the Senior Executive Service and finally was promoted to an SES-4, only two steps down from the top grade. But the principal reason I reached such high levels was my performance on the job. That performance was due to my enhanced ability to think. I learned in the process that leading—enabling subordinates to be the best they can be—rather then managing—controlling subordinates—created the conditions for outstanding achievement.

When I look back on my career advancement, I see that two factors predominated: luck and my ability to think. It was sheer luck that the army chose to teach me Vietnamese in 1959, when Vietnam was of no importance to the U.S. And it was by chance that I happened to be comfortable in the three languages of Vietnam—Vietnamese, Chinese, and French—during the 1960s and 1970s. But it was not luck that I was ready and willing to be sent to Vietnam repeatedly during the war.

And the major reason that I was promoted time after time was that I was exceptionally good at my job. Thanks to my education, I had sharpened my ability to think. I even learned how to think like the enemy, the Vietnamese Communists, and was able to predict what they would do next.

Yes, my education led to good jobs. But my degrees were minor factors in my career. Most important was my ability to think and, as it turned out, to outthink the enemy.

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