When you know something

When do you choose action when you’ve the knowledge? For example, when you know that your boss is saying something that is wrong to the client, when do you choose to correct him (or her)? What would you say?

What about when you know that you’re generating more trash by using the disposable takeaway container, or the cutlery? How about when you actually have a reusable container to use but wonder if it’s worth the effort to wash it? How do you balance your knowledge with your actions?

For far too long, we recognise that awareness and knowledge is the first step. But then getting from this first step to the point of action where it really makes an impact seem like a mystery. Psychologist probably had less luck figuring this out than marketers and social media platforms. The world’s most intractable problems are not to be solved through knowledge but action – how much would knowledge spur action, and how the mechanism works remains much of a mystery. But whatever we discover that we can do, why don’t we direct it towards helping to drive positive action towards the most challenging problems that mankind faces?

When you don’t know something

When you don’t know something, what is your response? It depends very much on whether you expected yourself to know it. As it turns out, when you don’t expect yourself to know it, you’d happily confess not knowing. But when you expect yourself to know it, then you’d often times get angry. It is usually at yourself, but then you’ll soon direct that at the questioner. How dare he or she question you on that?

Or, even if you confess you don’t know, you’d question the intention of the question. Or express surprise, thinking that should be something the questioner don’t ask, or would have to figure out themselves.

So when you’re new at work and you don’t know a tonne of stuff, do you lash at people when you’re embarrassed about things you don’t know and feel so vulnerable? Do you confess you don’t know and encourage others to help you?

How you respond when you don’t know something critically affects your ability to grow. The more you cover up what you don’t know and try to learn on the side, the more you have to be defensive, impatient, angry and resentful. And the more you’re able to cover up and pick things up on your own, the more isolated, alienated and resentful. So you have to choose how you want to grow when you don’t know – to be alone and proud of yourself; or to be surrounded by helpful souls and lifelong friends?

Bad memory, good understanding

I had a bad memory and in school I was never quite able to cram for examinations. I found memorisation a complete chore and whenever I had to remember something, it was important that I found something already in my memory to associate it with so as to bond the materials better to my mind.

It turned out that this exercise from young did two things for me. One is that it caused me to develop an interest for learning and genuine understanding when confronted with something new. Since I wasn’t able to retain much in my mind, what I did, I kept them for much longer than everyone else. And I had to develop my own reasons and purpose for wanting to put something into my memory since they were usually stored longer term. And the other was that it gave me a method that allowed my memory capacity to accelerate as I learnt more.

The second point requires a bit more explanation. When I recall things by associating the new information with something already in my mind, I’m actually causing the web of my knowledge to be denser. When a piece of information stands alone, it is easily forgotten. But when you connect it with other information, it suddenly becomes more memorable.

Take for example you meet a guy and he tells you he is 23 years old, then says nothing further. Your memory of him is reinforced by how he sounded, his clothes, hairstyle and perhaps handshake. But if he also tells you that his Mum is a widow, and he had gone to college in Boston, you might actually take all these pieces of information, form even more associations and once you meet him, you’d be able to recall him better than if he had not shared the additional information.

If you’re good at quick wins, you might miss out the opportunity and the grounding to get the harder wins. So when the quick wins are exhausted, you find yourself poorly positioned to make any further wins.