According to the Urban Dictionary when someone tells you to get real, they want you to get a reality check and to stop behaving as though you're living in a fantasy world.

The Pew Research Center said in a recent study that about 85 percent of Americans 18 and older use the Internet, while 95 percent of Americans ages 12 to 17 are online. This is a jump from the 46 percent of people who used in the Internet in 2000, according to the study. "Today's person spends way more time in front of screens in fluorescent-lit rooms, in cubicles, being on one end or the other of an electronic data transfer. And what is it to be human and alive and exercise your humanity in that kind of exchange?" states David Foster Wallace in David Lipsky's Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace.

No longer is the Internet merely a destination. Rather, it’s just another piece of everyday life, experts say, where both the digital world and reality are beginning to mesh into “blended reality”. On the Internet, "real life" refers to life in the real world. Online, the acronym "IRL" stands for "in real life", with the meaning "not on the Internet".

The deep penetration of the Internet’s impact on our lives has created for me a concern for the loss of “real life”. Most people use online technology as a complement for things that already exist in the physical world, and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between what some call “lived reality” (real life) and “the online experience” (digital life). And for many, educating and learning is also done through the online world. However, what many fail to realize is that the accumulation of so many of these facts, inferences, and fictions are still someone else’s perception of the real world.

As Alan Cumming, an actor in the TV series The Good Wife, advised: “You should have an experience; it shouldn't just be an experience.” With so much room for learning and growth, we need to open ourselves up to real-life experiences that we can share with others. You have to be there to experience it for yourself to be able to share it well with the online world. Others argue that experience is experience no matter how you receive it. Therefore, gain any and all experience that you can.

As technology gets smaller and more sophisticated, it becomes much easier for us to document and share our experiences instantly, allowing us to live vicariously through one another. As technology advances, the online experience allows many to live vicariously when none of it is actually happening. As Albert Einstein advised, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” It has long been said that there is no substitute for in real life (IRL) connections when it comes to learning and growth. And for me, this is absolutely true for individuals thinking about supply chain management careers.

Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible. And a broader definition includes everything that has existed, exists, or will exist. According to Lynsay Sands, author of Love Bites: “Time is not the great teacher. Experience is. A man may live a whole life, but if he never leaves his home to experience that life, he dies knowing nothing.”

Ron Goode, director of education for TCA, says “young people have what is referred to as liquid knowledge - the knowledge that comes from studying a particular subject or learning as they move through a situation. Mature people have liquid knowledge and have crystal knowledge - the additional knowledge that comes from having worked through a particular subject or situation once or many times. It is additional knowledge that comes from experience, trial-and-error, getting better and better at something, minimizing the scares, been there, done that, know the drill.” Education can provide you with a good arsenal of foundational liquid knowledge, but the true value you offer an organization stems from the hands-on, pragmatic crystal knowledge you learn through making a lot of mistakes and learning how to “get it right” as you work your way up the logistics and supply chain industry ladder.

“Seventy percent of an adult employee's training is acquired by actually doing the job”, said Joe Krkoska, director of global supply chain with Dow AgroSciences LLC. “Companies need to emphasize real-world experience, by bringing together seasoned managers and new talent to shadow them.” Why? You don’t know everything there is to know and you don’t know what you don’t know.

Crystal knowledge is built on a foundation of liquid knowledge. And therein lies the problem: Without real world experience, all you know is what you’ve read, what you’ve viewed online, and what you’ve heard, and the world’s a whole lot bigger than that. The “real world” learning experience provides an opportunity to gain practical, on-the-job training in a logistics or supply chain field of interest to you. It allows you to apply what you have learned in online to real-life work experiences as well as bridge your academic experience to the world of work. A recent article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education states, “Employers want book smarts to translate to the real world.”

Trust me, I’m not a Luddite. But isn’t it time for us to focus on getting real!

This article is part of the monthly series authored by the Institute for Supply Management’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, trainers, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain and Professional Development topics.

Thomas L. Tanel, CTL, C.P.M., CISCM, is the President and CEO of CATTAN Services Group, Inc., specializing in Logistics and Supply Chain issues. He is also the Chair of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at or (979) 212-8200. Membership in the Group is open to all ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in the Logistics & Transportation fields.