This is a really simple formula and its meaning for me is that a little knowledge (little k) is a Dangerous Thing (big DT).
If you don’t believe this formula, ask yourself this question: Would you be happy to be diagnosed by a first year medical student if they didn’t have a consultant standing beside them during your examination? To put it a slightly different way, have you ever read through a family medical encyclopaedia? What did you experience as you read through all of the different illnesses and their symptoms? I’d be willing to bet that having read only a few pages, you started to notice that you had some of the symptoms and that you started to wonder how it was that you hadn’t spotted them before.
Do you think that it’s a coincidence that younger drivers pay more for their insurance? Or, do you think that the rate might reflect their inexperience as a demographic group and the fact that their little knowledge really can be a Dangerous Thing both for them, and those that they come into contact with?
When I was younger I worked in a corporate IT department (no this isn’t going to be a geek story). The people there were, on the whole, well paid and some of them had surplus disposable income. Three of them banded together and started to trade on the stock market. The market was a buoyant one and very soon they had made a significant profit on their initial investment. One of the things that I hadn’t realised at that time (but they took great delight in sharing with me) was that if you were in profit, your broker would allow you to use that as leverage against bigger share purchases, in effect letting you trade with money that you didn’t have against future profits. These three guys decided that’s what they would do, after all the market was going up and there was no end in sight.
What they hadn’t accounted for was that two of the companies that they were investing in were subject to poor performance figures and when they announced their year end results, their share prices nose-dived (one was actually accused of irregularities and trading of their shares was suspended). Both companies had been briefing the City for several months before and in their own way had been giving warnings that things might not be ‘rosy’. The only problem was that these publicly available briefings are written in a language that only experienced traders and analysts could understand. They had understood the messages alright and had been dropping shares onto the market for weeks (bringing the price down and making them seem like an absolute bargain to my three colleagues).
The result was that these three guys not only ended up losing their profit, they also ended up having to sell the other shares that they had bought using their ‘paper profits’ at a ‘real loss’. From recollection I think they ended up about £95k down overall.
A friend of mine, Allan Watton of Best Practice Group, has a saying “When a man with money meets a man with experience, the man with the money ends up with the experience and the man with the experience ends up with the money” This was certainly the case for my three colleagues, for them a little knowledge (and a dose of greed) was a dangerous thing.
In my own working life, I use this formula to remind me that as a mentor, I should always be setting people up for success. Often the best way to do that is to support their energy and enthusiasm and to be there as a non-judgemental reference point for them. In doing so, they know that as they come up against gaps in their knowledge, they can refer back to me as someone to ‘bounce’ their thinking off. If you can strike the right balance and avoid stepping in and taking over, you will find that their little k can very quickly become a big K.
More importantly, the risks of their failure and the knock on effects for the people that they are dealing with will have been properly managed along the way.
I feel that it’s only fair to point out that this formula not only affects the younger generation. In some ways it can be even more relevant to the more mature members of our society. Dare I say, that the reason for this is that they have often developed a ‘know it all’ attitude that supposes that they have seen and experienced everything and that they don’t need to learn ‘new tricks’.
Don’t get me wrong, there are older people that I meet that still have an open and positive attitude to learning, but it is a quality that I tend to see more in younger people.
What do you think? Give me your comments. Here are some questions for you…
1. What’s your attitude to properly learning new things?
2. How do you support people that have less experience than you?
3. What examples can you think of where a little knowledge has been a dangerous thing for you or someone you know?
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