What You Know

By Chris Chittenden

"Well, my existence is a continuum, so I've been what I am at each point in the implied time period."

… Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper in the "The Big Bang Theory"

Here is a question for you to consider, given unlimited time, would you be able to tell me everything that you know? If you think you could then it seems you may be a rarity. Everyone I have asked to this point has considered the question and then said they could not. Interestingly, the way in which many people responded indicated that this was a new thought for most of them. One that seemed to elicit some bemusement mixed with a sneaking recognition of something of importance, although they were not sure why.

Those responses indicate to me that this is not a trivial question if we are to understand how a human being engages in living life and how he or she can live a better life. You may recall from previous newsletters that we define the human condition as a continuous yet momentary experience of living. In that context and given that we all know a lot, why is it that one piece of knowledge shows up for us in any given moment rather than another piece of knowledge? One way of responding to this question is to think of one aspect of the human condition in terms of triggers and patterns.

Human beings go through life engaging with our immediate environment. As we do so, we interpret what is going on within and around us thereby allowing us to act in the context of our perceived situation. This is not something we do occasionally but constantly through physical, emotional and linguistic avenues. Those interpretations trigger certain responses and patterns of being within us. The more often the response or pattern is triggered, the more embodied it becomes. This goes some way to explaining why certain knowledge and actions, particularly that which is well used, shows up in a given situation.

It also explains why people may know something yet do not apply that knowledge in some situations where it would be applicable. This is what Jeffrey Pfeffer termed "the knowing doing gap". It is why I can ask someone about leadership and they will give me credible answers yet they may not apply that knowledge when needed. It is my question that triggers their knowledge and they do not have a trigger in other situations.

This is also a critical distinction in terms of learning. Most learning is aimed at expanding a person's knowledge, not at allowing someone to access their knowledge when it is required. For example, we do a lot of work using the Human Synergistics profiling suite. From these profiles, many people (and organisations) seek to become more "constructive" yet struggle to do so. I am often asked “how can I become more constructive?” and ultimately there is a simple answer. All you have to do is constantly ask yourself, “How would I do this constructively?”. In other words, if you are to make better use of your learning, you have to create your own trigger.

We invite you to think about your learning experiences and identify how you could better trigger what you already know. It may make those learning experiences far more worthwhile.

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© 2010 Chris Chittenden