August 9, 2011
News & Opinion: What do we know?
I love the feeling of having my expectations broken. Most of us can point to a time where we received special treatment beyond what we assumed, or knew from previous experience, and that's always a great experience. But what I really enjoy is when I discover something very obvious, so obvious that I never saw it. That realization is profound because it really makes me understand how easy it is to become complacent, or perceive the world in ways that I myself created, which isn't necessarily true. A friend's father, who used to be a policeman, commented that the best criminals are the ones who build the most consistently normal appearing lives. By doing so, they remove suspicion that they would be involved in anything other than what any other person would be. When caught, policemen and civilians would be shocked that something illegal was going on when everything seemed so normal. To be the officer who discovered and caught the criminal must be so much more exciting than catching the obvious bank robber, etc. because of the situation's ability to shatter expectations. Business books can certainly create this phenomena as well. We might be managers or sales people or CEOs or marketers and to a certain degree, we know about those roles - we know how to work within them, what's expected of them, and how to apply our own ideas to enhance them. Then sometimes we can read a book and think, "Wow, that seems so obvious, yet it's incredibly important, and I have never considered that before." That's a great feeling, because it's real learning. It's us understanding that we know a lot, but not everything, and that's inspiring on many levels.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Bed of Procrustes is a great list of insightful aphorisms that shift your perspective 1% - which is all it takes to make you think, "Wow, I never thought about it like that before."
David McRaney's forthcoming (October) book You Are Not So Smart clearly reveals how our assumptions and beliefs cause us to see the world much more incorrectly than we think.
And even Jonathan Fields' Uncertainty trumpets the fact that we know very little about any given situation, but that shouldn't hold us back from discovering the truth on our own terms.
Books like these reveal the direct knowledge of their content, but also allow a personal experience to take place, as we discover there are many details we've missed, and will continue to miss. But that's ok, as long as we're open to learning about them, and not letting their absence hold us back from taking chances and stumbling onto great things.