To be perfectly honest, I’m not completely certain whether or not I’ve already discussed this topic on this blog. After all, some 3,700+ post have been published in the last 12 years and it’s hard to keep track of them all. But as we know, ignorance is bliss, so let’s just getting into the thick of things and talk about the subject at hand. But wait… do we actually know that ignorance is bliss?
You Know What You Know
… or at least what you think you know, you know?
It was around this time last year that I met up for lunch with my friend Anthony Taylor from SME Strategy. We shared some of the personal challenges we were each going through and tried to help one another work through them. At one point in the conversation, he brought up a deceptively simple but rather poignant point.
The world of knowledge, from your perspective, can be loosely broken down into three categories. First, there are the things you know that you know. I know how to drive a car. I know that the sky is blue (sometimes). The knowledge of these skills and facts is within my awareness. I know that I know them.
You Know What You Don’t Know
The second set of knowledge consists of the things you know that you don’t know. While I am aware of fields like theoretical physics, I know that I wouldn’t really be able to explain the Higgs boson particle to you. When you were a child in school first learning about addition, you knew that you didn’t yet know how to multiply or divide.
Heading into the world of parenting for the first time, I was keenly aware of my ignorance when it came to the bottomless pit of mommy jargon. I knew there were all sorts of terms and acronyms; I just didn’t know what any of them were.
As comedian Gary Gulman once put it, if ignorance is bliss, then I’m just smart enough to be unhappy. I know that you can make a lot of money in the stock market; I just don’t know how to do it. I know that if I stop obsessing over money, I’ll probably be happier; I just don’t know how to stop thinking about money.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
This third category is perhaps the most nefarious, because it represents your blind spot. The truth is you won’t know what you don’t know until you’re in the thick of things and fall flat on your face.
Let’s use an example of elementary school math. When I was first learning how to subtract, I was told that you couldn’t subtract a larger number from a smaller number. An equation like “5 – 7 = ?” was simply impossible. At that point in my life, I didn’t know that I didn’t know about negative numbers. Of course, we know that 5 – 7 = -2. It feels obvious now.
Going back to my life as a new parent, I knew that I didn’t know about all the jargon. I didn’t know that I didn’t know about muslin hooded towels or the difference between a travel system and a convertible car seat. Even the knowledge of this ignorance evaded me…. so I decided to write a book about it. Because I know that I know how to write.
Sort of. Maybe I don’t really know that at all. After all, the fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.