April  2014     Edition 101
Ask “What knowledge don’t I have?”

You may have heard the expression, “Knowledge is Power”

, most often attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, four hundred years ago.    What makes knowledge powerful?   From a critical thinking perspective, knowledge gives you choices, and choices result in better decisions.

Say you’re in need of some office or school supplies.  If you have the knowledge that you’ll often find a $10 off coupon for office depot at retailmenot.com,  you can chose to save $10 and do so.  However, if someone else doesn’t know about finding coupons they end up buying the same items and will pay $10 more.

Knowledge about your customers

increases your ability to produce products that sell.   Knowledge about computers might make the difference between fixing a system problem in 15 minutes, or spending several frustrating hours and having to bring the computer into a shop to get fixed.  Knowledge about the weather helps you plan a weekend outing.  Knowledge about investing allows you to earn more than 0.02 percent on your savings.

There are claims that between the years 1500 and 1700

there was a time that was crossed when no one person was physically capable of retaining all that was known at the time.   Clearly, today, no one can know everything.  In my early career, I learned that IBM published more information about the very subject I was supposed to know than I could possibly read if I read 24 hours per day.

So we start out each day knowing that we don’t know everything

; in fact we generally know very little about most things.    And now we have a problem to solve.  Maybe we have the knowledge, maybe not.

One question to ask fairly early in the problem solving stage is


“What knowledge might I need that I might not have in order to solve this problem?”

.  Of course, you won’t know everything you don’t know that you may need to know to solve the problem, but you’ll know some of those things, and once you identify those things you can ask, “Where can I get that knowledge?”  There are three places to look:

1. You can ask someone else who has the knowledge to help

.  This is called a Subject Matter Expert (SME).   If available to you within your organization, this is usually the fastest and least expensive way to go.  Surround yourself with subject matter experts.  Identify who has what knowledge.  Create a system and/or process or database to quickly identify who has what knowledge.   In a large organization, this can be an incredible resource and competitive advantage, and can save millions of dollars avoiding having to “recreate the wheel” each time the same problem comes up.

2. You can self learn

;  Read, research, experiment to gain knowledge that you don’t know.   Do this when the knowledge is just not available.   No one has solved this problem before, you can’t find anyone with this knowledge, or the cost to get the knowledge from someone else is prohibitive.   If there’s a lot of knowledge to be gained, this process can take a long time, with many failures along the way.  If it’s just a small task, like how to change a bicycle tire, this can be accomplished in a short time by simply reading directions.

3. You can hire someone who had knowledge that you don’t have.

  This is called a consultant.  My rule for consultants is simple.  Suck their brain, then get rid of them.  You want their knowledge.  You don’t need them to do manual stuff, paper shuffling, or hold meetings, etc.   You don’t need their hands or feet, you need their brain (or what’s in it).   A good consultant is a subject matter expert, obtained from their experience and their research, and possible experiments.   Don’t use them to make decisions for you.  Do use them as a knowledge source.  I’m a critical thinking teacher and consultant.  People don’t (and shouldn’t) hire me to solve problems for them.  They hire me to teach them critical thinking, and pass this knowledge to them, so that they can obtain the knowledge of tools that allow for more productive problem solving 

Once you have the knowledge you need,

now you have more choices to make, now you can understand relationships that you didn’t understand before, now you can correlate cause and effect, come to  conclusions using information that is accurate and consistent.   Knowledge … it makes a huge difference between calculated decisions versus luck of the draw.

The Takeaway:
  Ask, “What knowledge might I need, and don’t have and where can I obtain that?”.  Do this fairly early in the problem solving stage.  It can save you a tremendous amount of time and money.

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