If ignorance is bliss, what is knowledge? Is knowledge the antithesis of ignorance? Is knowledge hell? Or is it something altogether different? Can ignorance and knowledge coexist?
I have been philosophising on this topic as a result of two recent events. One is my dad’s stroke. The other is the appointment of a young girl to a client business. Both seemingly unrelated. Or maybe not.
My dad, Bob, is 89. He worked as an accountant. He was senior partner of one of the Big 4 accounting practices. His knowledge was respected by his peers. He was very patient to pass on his knowledge to those who sought it. Clients in Australia, Europe and the USA valued his expertise.
A stroke two months ago has robbed him of a lifetime’s knowledge. If he does remember past events, they are often interwoven with fantasy. He will mix a memory of childhood with a dream and set both in a random location.
For us, his family, it is devastating to see this once intelligent, witty, wise man reduced to a confused child. One day he imagines he’s in a golf club where the chef has run out of a number of menu items. The next day he’s waiting for his air force uniform to arrive. Sometimes he just stares out a window.
For 89 years he has been storing knowledge, building on it long after retirement. Now it is gone. His knowledge is now just a house he once lived in, a car he once drove.
So, the other event that started me thinking about knowledge?
A short while back a client hired a new staff member. We’ll call her Katriona. Katriona’s business card describes her as a Marketing & Communications Specialist or Expert or some such.
From Katriona’s first communication it was clear that she’s no expert. What I have learnt about Katriona is that she presents opinions as if they were facts. I have learnt that she wants to be seen to be an expert. But she is ignorant. And opinionated. A bad combination.
The thing is that Katriona has access to vast amounts of knowledge, but doesn’t want it. Her peers have years of knowledge that most would be happy to share. Consultants too have accumulated expertise in their fields that they’d happily pass on. But Katriona has arrived preloaded with a little bit of knowledge and an overdose of attitude.
This is where these two events meet.
In many organisations, especially service industries and trades, knowledge is their greatest asset. That knowledge arrives every morning and leaves every evening.
Some organisations have procedures in place to transfer that knowledge from master to apprentice. However, there’s a huge reservoir of knowledge that is lost forever each time a senior staff member leaves or retires.
My dad’s business knowledge is now gone forever. Katriona’s is unlikely to arrive. Every organisation has the opportunity to harvest that knowledge and feed the ignorant. How well is your organisation set up to do just this?