How Do You Know What You Know?

It is what you learn after you know it all that counts. John Wooden

First, an educational test:

  1. Have you ever had thoughts that were not totally rational?
  2. Have you ever had unrealistic fantasies about the future?
  3. Have you ever made up you mind and then changed it?
  4. Have you ever been taught any of these skills in school?

Most of you probably answered yes to the first three questions and no to the last. I used this test in many of my keynote speeches, and that was the usual result. Apparently these skills are common (and valuable), so we seem to learn them without being taught. Learning and unlearning is a do-it-yourself operation.

Non-rational thinking, unrealistic future visions, and the willingness and ability to change one’s mind are all useful human skills. And like many useful skills, including decision making, they are not taught in schools. Only rational thoughts are considered useful, daydreaming is discouraged, changing one’s mind is being wishy-washy and making decisions is left to trial and error learning.

It is true that learning takes place in school. But it is also true that learning takes place everyplace. Learning is the result of one’s total environment and one’s personal and limited experiences. What is taught in school is usually what is already known. We need to learn the process skills of creating knowledge as well as acquiring knowledge. And we need to unlearn some of what we have learned.

Rational thinking is desirable, but it is almost impossible in today’s world of technology, Big Data and “white-water” change. Positive illusions about the future at times have been shown to be a useful strategy. Changing one’s mind is actually essential if one is to unlearn what has been learned.

My point for writing this blog is to reiterate my positive uncertainty theme of open-mindedness. Learning, unlearning, changing one’s mind, making thoughtful decisions, acquiring knowledge, creating knowledge, and imagining a positive future all require an open mind. Close-mindedness doesn’t produce new learning. We know what we know by continuing to learn and unlearn. We learn by continuing to question what we know. More information = more uncertainty.

A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.

Murphy’s Law


This entry was posted in Beliefs. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Hi HB– I am back at my computer after my couple of weeks in the hospital. Feeling great. Willing to do whatever I feel like doing. I am glad you are keeping your thought-provoking emails available! John

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