Is a higher education still the prerequisite for success?  The crippling student loan crisis, and the rise of technology workers, has led to a heated debate on this subject in the mainstream. However, while many may equate a higher education simply with a higher salary, the truth is that a higher education is often a proactive remedy for the universal struggle for a higher purpose in life that most people eventually face.

Dr. Herb Greenberg, founder and CEO of CALIPER, found his higher purpose in life while on a quest for knowledge. The socioeconomic data that he uncovered while getting his PhD at New York University eventually assisted in desegregating much of the United States. Furthermore, his academic mentors as a young MBA student at The City College of New York profoundly influenced how he would go on to lead his employees as CEO.

Dr. Greenberg recently documented his life story in his compelling and entertaining new book on leadership, What You Aren’t Seeing, which is available for purchase here.

Below, Dr. Greenberg shares many of the lesser-known details of his fascinating academic journey:

You studied clinical psychology and sociology, which were still emerging disciplines at the time, as America barreled toward the Civil Rights Era. What was that like?

My professors were extremely exciting. One of them in particular, Dr. Kenneth Clark, did the famous study on the “brown doll vs. the white doll” – in which African American kids preferred the white doll to the brown doll. Years later, that study was submitted as evidence to partially form the Brown vs. Board of Education case, as part of the proof that segregation doesn’t work too well.  I knew of this study several years before it was submitted to court. Another phenomenal professor of mine was Dr. Ruth Monroe, who brought the Rorschach (inkblot) test to the United States.

My professors didn’t only talk to the seniors or graduate students – they treated me, a freshman, equally. In fact, this was what turned me away from being a lawyer, and got me excited about psychology and people. I had spent three days in law school, and then realized that I couldn’t spend three years doing that.

City College had the integrity and vision to throw heavy hitters like Gardner Murphy and Ken Clark at freshmen, which is a key differentiator that often separates a good college education from a great one.

Getting your PhD is all about putting what you’ve learned into action. In what ways did earning your doctorate at NYU influence who you became as a person?

Along with psychology, I did a lot of work at NYU’s Center for Human Relations Studies. There were two professors, Mike Jiles and Dan Dodson, who were very influential regarding the whole notion of research being meaningful. In other words, you could take the course and learn how to do factor analysis, but unless you use it for something, what good is knowing it? NYU affirmed by notion that whatever I do should have some value, some worthwhile result. That’s what led me to my doctoral dissertation – at the time, there was a huge controversy over “can separate be equal?” Instinctively, I felt that it could not be – politically and philosophically.

However, I said “Let’s study it. Let’s do something to validate that notion.” That led to my doctoral dissertation, which basically studied three groups: the blind, women and African Americans. There was a huge majority of African Americans in Mississippi and Alabama, yet you would call them a minority group in the sense of socioeconomic or political status. It isn’t about numbers – it’s the position that someone is placed in.

That’s what I felt I wanted to prove, so I took the three groups and compared students who attended segregated schools with comparable students who attended integrated schools. I found some very interesting data that I now could prove, and show that the students attending integrated schools had more self-confidence and were more assertive than students attending segregated schools.

How did your colleagues and professors react to your very forward-thinking dissertation?

The committee loved the idea; I really caught a major opportunity because it was a very hot topic. I debated that topic with Dr. Clark for a whole year back in ‘47, and in fact we had this very interesting debate, where Dr. Clark said that there could never be a third world war because of the atomic bomb, because it is simply too destructive, I said “That’s not true, there could be a third world war, because the fear of mass destruction has never stopped a Hitler or Genghis Khan. We debated that for a year – I was a lousy little freshman, and here I was debating “god” on a very important topic.

Did the environment that your professors fostered – open debate and treating all students equally, influence how you would eventually treat your employees as a CEO?

No question – yes. I think the combination of CCNY and NYU helped in two basic ways that led to my motivation. One is that everybody is equal – it doesn’t matter if you are a freshman or a professor, black or white, male or female – you are who you are. Second is the notion that there needs to be a purpose to what you do, not just a title or research purity. What are you going to do with it? I came up with a certain set of data – my PhD – and got awards for it and stuff, but the data was important because it was used to help desegregate most states, and it served a purpose to change ideas about education.

What I said in my acceptance speech at NYU is that I am most proud of the fact that I did something with my doctorate, that the research had value and has made a difference.

What does it mean to be an educated person?

That’s a tough question. I think what it really is, is the willingness to think. Not to come with a set of fixed ways of doing things, just because “so-and-so said so,” but to think and be willing to do stupid things, make stupid conclusions. It’s the idea of thinking it through and coming to a tentative conclusion, and being willing to even make a mistake. It takes three strikes to go out, so even strike one or two is not that bad.

So, being educated is about being objective and unbiased?

Yes and no. Everyone has biases, including me. It’s about recognizing your own biases and not being controlled by them. It’s not a question of having them – we all do – but are you driven by them? Do you hire as a result of them? Date according to them? If you’re a teacher, do you grade according to your biases? That’s where it comes in.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be educated? How does all of this effect talent management in business? Leave a reply in the comments section below! Pick up a copy of What You Aren’t Seeing here.