How Much Is Knowing Worth?

I am generally careful with people who claim “to know.”

The one thing I have learned in my advancing age, is the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. It is unsettling. One example was a YouTube video I watched that demonstrated how you build a high-end acoustic guitar. You could watch it here. Nearly every step was something I didn’t know and in many cases would never have adopted the same method had I thought about it.

Never stop learning

No matter how quickly you learn, the percentage of what you know or at least are familiar with, as a percentage of what there is to know, shrinks every day. There is a benefit – Learning is fun. The problem comes when you must learn something. Keeping up to date in your profession is necessary and often difficult. The big part of the difficulty is overcoming what you already know.

Mark Bonchek made the point in a 2016 article in Harvard Business Review.

Why the Problem with Learning Is Unlearning

“Unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one.”

When something is truly different, it is a mistake to say “It is like what I know except.” New paradigms are not the same as refinement of something you know already. Having a first child is a new paradigm. You cannot understand it as an extension of life before.

Always seek to learn more.

When you are always looking to know more you tend to be more humble about what you know. From experience, you know that in time what you know will likely be overtaken by new  information or ideas. Eventually we reach the point where we are supposing instead of knowing.

“it is wiser to find out rather than to suppose” Mark Twain

The longer we have known something, the more likely there is a reason to find out.

Why seek to replace what you know?

Knowing is a very tentative thing. Twain has again given us insight into remaining alert for the new. “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 key is humility. The wise among us know what they know, and where it fits in the world. They also are aware of what they don’t know and what is changing. The ability to acknowledge what we don’t know is essential. For example, I know very little abut crypto-currencies. I also know they will affect how people think about what money is, or maybe better, what it means.

At the moment I am stuck because there is so little information that is not about its hype as an investment. I have very little faith in it as an investment. I need to learn more about what that means. As I see it in my old way, it is a commodity that someone might choose to use some day. Like copper or zinc, or lithium. It’s value will be in what other people will want to use if for and thus be willing to pay for a unit. My idea of investment is more about what will it earn rather than what will it fetch. In terms of comparative advantage, I could be wrong.

If you don’t keep track of what you don’t know, you will be suddenly on the wrong side of thinking.

What happens when “knowing” is promoted.

The Covid-19 pandemic can give us a clue. Have you noticed politicians who claim to be using expert opinion and “the science” to support the policies and actions. If you know an expert, you can ask them what they do know ,what they don’t know, what they expect they can find out and when. The most amazing thing is you will find they are much less certain than “expert” implies.

The politicians and senior bureaucrats are not very likely wanting to let you talk with the experts. Their powerful positions would be made more uncertain and that adds nothing to their all-knowing and caring image. The reality of science and knowing has been addressed by Richard Feynman, Nobel prize winner and brilliant communicator. You might remember him from the movie – 73 Seconds: The Challenger Disaster.

The clip makes an interesting point, knowing the fact and knowing the meaning or implications is not the same.

Feynman and other competent scientists are always looking for errors in what they know.

“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t correct those mistakes, you’re doing it really wrong. If you can’t accept that you’re mistaken, you’re not doing it at all.”

The inability to admit mistakes is hubris and as we know, hubris doesn’t lead to good outcomes.

The bits to take away

Be more humble about what you think you know.

Permit others to correct themselves when they learn  new things.

Perfection does not exist and it is debilitating to expect it from yourself or anyone else.


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I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, 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. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at

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