The booby prize – when knowledge is NOT power - Next Action Associates

With all due respect to Sir Francis Bacon, I don’t agree with his famous and oft-cited phrase, ‘knowledge is power’. Not in today’s world, anyway. He wrote in a time and in a context (The Enlightenment) when opening up learning to a wider population was driving massive changes in society and in what was possible for mankind. When he wrote it, it did seem as if the printing press and wider dissemination of books and printed material was going to completely revolutionise the human experience. Which it did, to a point.

However, knowing about the existence of things and knowing where to find information on those things will only get you so far. Today, we live in a world where information overload is pretty much unavoidable, and Google can get you way more knowledge than you can ever hope to ingest. If his famous dictum were true in our time, anyone with a broadband connection would be Napoleon, and – check the mirror if you need to – the omnipresent access to information has not yet produced a generation of super-powerful (if vertically-challenged) emperors.
On the contrary, I would say that knowledge can be one of the great barriers to real learning. As a teacher and a coach, I’m sometimes confronted with learners who respond to a learning opportunity with some version of, ‘nothing new in that, I know that’. What I think they mean to say is that they know about the subject in question, but that is radically different than knowing how to use the knowledge effectively. Real knowledge (or real learning) is not knowing about something, but being able to use what you know, consistently, even in strange and difficult circumstances. The former can be picked up from a book or an article; the latter can only be attained by practicing until the ‘head learning’ becomes a part of your natural response.
Take for example a professor of anatomy and physiology, who knows pretty much everything there is to know about how muscle is built in the body, but isn’t currently engaged in a programme of exercise. He knows a lot, but that knowledge is of very little use to him in terms of keeping himself healthy. Knowing about how muscle gets built is great, but if we are picking teams for a game of football I’d want the guy on my team who is actually doing push-ups, not the anatomy and physiology expert.

Similarly, knowing about GTD is a good thing of course, but to know about it and not use it is really just the booby prize*. In terms of benefits from the investment of time, you’d almost be better off not knowing what works, because if you aren’t doing those things you’ll only use the knowledge to beat yourself up for ‘being lazy’.

What GTD proposes is not complicated, and many overlook the power of the subtle changes that it proposes. Much of what we want to be able to do or have in our lives is not complicated, but if we can’t do the simple things that it takes to get them then of what use is the knowledge? Getting great results doesn’t mean radical changes: small changes, practiced over time, can have a dramatic impact on your results.

To close, another quote:

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read
Mark Twain

Do what you know to do. Start now. Start small. Keep at it. Everything else is just the sound of lips flapping in self-generated wind.

*Booby prize – a joke prize usually given in recognition of a terrible performance or last-place finish

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