When Knowledge Becomes Ignorance

There is a difference between a smart person and a know-it-all. The main difference is how you feel when they are in the room (and conversation) and when they leave. A smart person generally shares what they know in a way that builds trust while giving relatable context to the information. A know-it-all usually makes you feel dumb, insignificant, or upset.

But can you ever be too smart for your own good? Yes. There is a tipping point in us all. How or why it is triggered will vary based on our individual motivations and beliefs. But make no mistake about it, we all are dangerously close to making one bad decision.

That decision is that we are smart enough. Many people reach a point where they either have actively decided that they don't need to keep learning because "they know enough" or they don't believe there is anything else worth learning (they are the expert's expert).

As a business owner (or even a very high-level employee) this is can have a far-reaching ripple effect. I see this as "Willful Blindness". This behavior can express itself in many fashions, but several common ones include believing you are always right, dismissing ideas from those of lower status, and only listening to people of equal status or higher status than yourself.

One of my favorite quotes, by William J. Mayo, is very candid on this topic. "A specialist is a man who knows more and more about less and less." I'm not knocking professionals that specialize. This quote resonates with me because the more you focus on a niche the smaller your knowledge gets outside of it. Great ideas can come from anywhere and be contributed by anyone. You just have to be willing to see and acknowledge it.

A specialist is a man who knows more and more about less and less.

William J. Mayo

Avoiding this knowledge to ignorance problem is simple, but perhaps not easy. You have to make a commitment to be proactive at welcome differing opinions and new information. This may sound obvious but it isn't always something we are good at implementing.

  • Comfort - We typically seek out things that make us comfortable, that could be a peer group, a profession or a set of friends. Comfort keeps us where we are (and we like that for the most part).

  • Security - We like feeling secure. This is related to Comfort but it is expressed differently. We like to feel secure in our surroundings, knowledge, and skills. Feeling secure boosts our confidence (but feeling too secure makes overconfident and overbearing).

  • Fear - We don't like to fear things (but we all do). Our fears are typically expressed as fearing change, the unknown, our lack of knowledge and more. However, if we allow fear to control our knowledge we will be limited to only what we already know.

  • Pride - We feel accomplished or entitled because of our effort, skill or knowledge. Feeling great about yourself will definitely boost your mood and outlook, but not if it comes at the expense of others. Pride makes us unteachable. This means we refuse to learn from others because of who they are or because we don't like the information they are sharing.

One of the best ways to avoid this problem is by asking others to make you aware when you start showing any of the above negative behavior. Make it clear that you will accept their feedback graciously (whether or not take it at face value). Ensure those around you that they will not be penalized for pointing out this information but remind them you are looking for constructive criticism.

Lastly be an example for those around you. Look for ways to have everyone participate in knowledge sharing whether formal in training meetings or informal in casual conversation. When learning and sharing knowledge is a company value, your venture is poised for innovation and avoiding being disrupted by someone else. This article was previously published on SavvySME.