There Is Risk in Knowing Things

Mistakes are your friends and you learn best by doing. An easy thing to see and to act upon. There is one mistake that is not your friend though, and it is often a hard one to avoid.

Stephen Hawking points it out.

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge

Mark Twain voiced a similar thought a century ago.

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.

“The illusion of knowledge” “What we know for sure that just ain’t so” A treacherous problem. Knowing something that is wrong is a serious mistake, but hard to avoid. Knowing nothing is likely better. When you know nothing you still have the chance to be right by accident.

Experience is not valuable forever. Some is valuable, but the circumstances where it applies have changed and the old experience applies only narrowly now. It is unwise to trust your experience without examining the context in which it was acquired. Experience has a half life. Understand that.

Some old ideas have changed. “Buy land. They aren’t making any more of it.” makes some sense now, but not as much as it did when one  family lived on a 200-acre farm. Today, that farm can house a thousand families. Population growth, proximity to work and size of families will make this calculation different in the future. For texture, if we create a space organized as we do urban centers, with houses, apartments, parks, schools, hospitals, roads and parking lots, the entire population of the earth could live in Texas.

Understand what you know and don’t. Knowledge breaks into four quadrants. You will manage each of them to avoid the problem Twain and Hawking address.

  1. The known-known space.  The subjects you know about and what you know about them. This one is the chief concern.  Not everything you know is actually knowledge. Not all knowledge is useful.
  2. The known-unknown space. As you learn more, you discover there is even more to know. That is the mark of the humble explorer. Always learning. Not so confident as to believe they know everything there is to know. People in this quadrant tend not to get caught up with the “just ain’t so problem.”
  3. The unknown-known space.  This one is tricky.  There are things you know that you don’t know how you know. Try to describe how to parallel park a car or hit a flop shot in golf. Eventually you just say, “I’ll show you.” Trusting this kind of knowledge is dangerous. Because you don’t know how you came to have it or how you learned it, you cannot easily assess its validity. Most worldviews fit here. Think political ideology, religion, and investment risk assessment.
  4. The unknown-unknown. Things you don’t know and you don’t know you don’t know. Some of these can be serious problems if you are the kind of person who is willing to think they know all they need to know early on in the proceedings. How many people have business operations in their unknown-unknown quadrant? Many, but that does not stop people from buying franchises in businesses they don’t understand. It doesn’t stop people from buying stocks in their online brokerage account. It doesn’t stop people from selling at the bottom of a market after a crash.

Younger people tend to take quadrant one as ideal while older people enjoy quadrant 2. The best position seems to be quadrant 2 with an awareness of 3 and 4.

Examine context and learn to apply knowledge better. Know more about yourself. Humility, openness to new things, and curiousity are your friends.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  866-285-7772

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: