The obstacle you can’t avoid
At every stage in life we face an incredible obstacle that limits our ability to grow and develop. We don’t know what we don’t know. And even worse since we don’t know what we don’t know, we don’t know where to look for it or even what that it is that we should look for.
Experts can’t help
Many of us seek out experts because we want knowledge and we will follow the paths that those experts blaze through the discipline or profession we want to learn. We go to school. We mentor. We learn what the experts know. After some time and study, we too can become experts. We become sources of information for others. The cycle continues.
Learning can’t help
Nothing about this cycle addresses the basic problem. No matter how much we learn we still do not know what we don’t know. That is a big problem. Wherever you are in this cycle you think you see the whole range of possibilities but it is a lie. What you see is a beautifully fabricated false facade, a movie set. What you learn as you progress from amateur to expert is how to protect that flimsy facade from damage so that nobody, including yourself can see the reality – studio walls- behind the set.
Why does that matter?
Now you may wonder why this is a problem since if you don’t know what you don’t know, why should you think that others will know what you don’t know. It really doesn’t matter what others know. What is certain is that what you don’t know can cause you big problems. You can worry about things that you know. You act to take advantage of things that you know. You can protect yourself against things that you know. There is absolutely nothing you can do to deal with what you don’t know.
So what are you saying?
A commercial that I saw recently highlighted that point. A happy guy was working on his laptop in the yard. He looks comfortable and safe but suddenly he looks up in terror and runs, leaving his laptop behind. A flaming gas range falls from the sky and demolishes the laptop. Granted this is a virtually impossible scenario but it could happen and the guy was completely unprepared for it. It never crossed his mind that a flaming gas range would fall from the sky so he had no plan to deal with it. He didn’t know what he didn’t know. You may discount this example but there are other examples. For many years, doctors thought that hand washing was unimportant. They would treat patients and operate without any effort at cleaning their hands. Even when it was suggested that hand washing reduced infections and when one doctor actually documented reductions in infections, the doctors were unwilling to go to the extra effort and wash their hands. They didn’t know what we all know now that bacteria on the hands can infect patients and sabotage the healing process. They were good doctors with the best of intentions for their patients but they didn’t know something important and much worse, they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
Beware of experts
So beware of experts and distrust their confidence that they have all the answers. Remember that they don’t know what they don’t know and they may not even be open to consider that possibility. Seek advice from humble people who don’t have all the answers and are open to ideas and experiments. As you grow and learn and find that people are starting to view you as an expert, apply the same measure to yourself. Resist the temptation of thinking that your knowledge is anything more than superficial and pragmatic. Be open to ideas that challenge the conventional. Experiment with new ways of thinking and acting and hope that each day you might discover one more thing that you didn’t know you didn’t know.