“Learn as much as you can of what you do not know” – an insightful challenge from the author of The Black Swan


Recently, I sat for an hour with a sales representative from Oracle.  (One of those chance, accidental encounters).  He knows his stuff!  He knew things, many things — things that I did not know.  We talked about the Cloud, and “adding value,” and the challenges brought by new, unexpected competitors…  We talked about a lot.  I think he appreciated insights I shared from recent books I’ve read, especially Team of Teams.  But, I know I appreciated his tutorial.  I learned things — things I did not know. Words and concepts that I’ve read about became understandable. He “explained” things in the course of our conversation, and I was grateful.

Which got me to thinking…

Who do you learn from?

This is not an unimportant question.

Narrow expertise is indeed valuable. But, ever-increasing broader knowledge is also valuable; maybe even more valuable.

Assuming we have acquired some level of basic knowledge, what happens next is that we tend to learn from people:

  • in our field
  • who think like we think

In other words, what we learn may provide a slight, continual, ongoing expansion of our capabilities and knowledge (this is good), but a failure to expand our horizons; a failure to learn from some one or some ones “outside” our normal viewpoints.

And, to fail to take advantage of that wider world of knowledge is not only a mistake, it could be increasingly a threat to your own future and that of your company.

the_black_swanOne of my favorite quotes is from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from his book The Black Swan:

The library (i.e., your personal library) should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real- estate market allow you to put there.

It reminds me that our knowledge is narrow, and the available information out there is so very vast.

And, the more we learn — the more we read and learn from “outside” our normal interests — the better equipped we will be to make sense of this diverse, collaborating, so.many.things.meshing.together world.

So… a simple suggestion. Read something, pretty regularly, from an author you normally would not read, in a field you know little about. And find more “accidental, chance encounters” with people who could teach you about something you know little about. It might be a surprisingly valuable way to spend some of your time.

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