In the last few weeks, as I have been sharing lessons that I have learned throughout my life from my dad, I feel like I keep seeing a common thread: the importance of being a learner. I’ve talked about things like “Never stop learning” and “Do (and learn) as much as you can until you’re 40,” and I’ve shared my thoughts on books that I’ve read that also contain lessons on the value of learning. So it makes sense, then, that this week I share another lesson related to the same topic that is also something that I often heard my father say: “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
Like many of the things he said to me, it was simple and catchy, but with real depth when you spend some time thinking about it (which, of course, I have done). It seems to me that this simple little saying has several valuable implications:
- You don’t – and can’t – know everything. If there is anything that we have learned in this information age, it is that there is a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge (some of it good, some of it not so much) accessible to us. Much of it can be found in a couple of seconds by Googling it, but there is far more information out there than one person can know or remember. However, this also means that it is probably more important in today’s world to know where and how to find information, than it is to know it all anyway.
- Realize that other people know things you don’t know (and vice versa). Although you can’t know everything about everything, and you probably can’t even know everything about one thing, there are probably some things about which you are much more knowledgeable than others. Perhaps from having more experience, or from specific study, or from natural inclination, but regardless, you are likely an “expert” on something; at least, much more so than many others. But the same thing is true for those others. They are likely “experts” on things of which your knowledge and experience is much more limited. Therefore, it is a mark of wisdom and good leadership to recognize this, and to learn from and partner with others who know things you don’t know, or who can do things that you can’t do (or can’t do as well). That’s whyit is probably more important in today’s world to know where and how to find information, than it is to know it all
- Never stop learning. Even though you can’t know it all, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to learn more. Each generation builds on the knowledge gained by the previous generation, and we should be part of the process of building that knowledge. In addition, building our knowledge also makes us better at what we do, because we have learned more and know more.
Putting this all together, it means that as you grow in knowledge, experience, and wisdom, you become much more aware of how much it is that still don’t know. That realization should help to keep you humble about your own knowledge and expertise, and should make you more willing to make use of the knowledge and abilities of others. At the same time, even with the realization that you can’t know everything, still never stop learning more. The more you continue to learn, the more you can grow and improve.