The Know-Not-It-Alls

“The vast accumulation of knowledge — or at least information — deposited…have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance.  When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields…in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every man knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not.  And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.”

–  T. S. Eliot, from his 1920 essay, “The Perfect Critic”

Welcome to the 2016 United States Presidential election.  And to too many Board rooms around the world.  Welcome to most of the conflict between spouses, parents-and-kids, friends and football fans and — well, you get the point, right?

The more we know, it seems, the less we really know.

Admittedly and frequently guilty here, I’m a generalist, blessed to have been given exposure to thousands of businesses across hundreds of markets / areas of specialty.  It’s an easy trap, especially when we read, ask a lot of questions and focus on life learning, to trick ourselves into believing that we’re the experts.  And even when we are one simple approach might serve us well; if a conversation, a conflict or a discussion is getting emotional, it’s likely because someone is lacking the knowledge they need to be confident and dispassionate, based on facts.  Instead of indict them or their position, what if we invited them to find the facts with us — would that make a difference?

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