The Illusion of Competence and the Knowledge Worker (2 min Read)

Do you remember struggling with some math problem back in school? And after a few failed attempts at solving it, you peek at the answer and the solution seems to all make sense. You probably thought to yourself, “I got this next time”. But, you really did not quite have it next time, right?

“Merely glancing at a solution and thinking you truly know it yourself is one of the common illusions of competence in learning” – Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE

I believe many Knowledge Workers are in danger of the illusions of competence by  mistaking information acquisition for knowledge.

Information, defined simply, is a collection of (possibly related) facts/data. However, it does not become knowledge until some fresh perspective is formed based on that information. Such knowledge should also be demonstrable by being able to change something based on that fresh perspective. In essence, gaining knowledge involves being changed by new information and being able to execute change based on that information.

“Knowledge work is work you can only do by applying things that can only be learned or best learned in a formal education process” – Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker first coined the word ‘Knowledge Work’ and he seems to imply here that it entails application. If we are to stay relevant in our respective fields it is not sufficient to just acquire new information. If no fresh perspective is gained or we are not able to change something based on this new perspective I dare say we have not acquired knowledge. This might be the difference between being an Information Worker versus a Knowledge Worker.
“In the new market we’ll be paid to do things not just know things “- Dan Appleman

Your value in the modern economy will not simply be based on what you know, but what you can do with what you know. With the advent of MOOCs like Coursera, Udacity and PluralSight, it is clearer than ever that information has become a cheap commodity in the digital age. A high school kid can now be better qualified for a task than you are because she combines her learning with hands on application.

The crux of this is that information by itself provides no advantage today if it is not transformed into knowledge. We should not be satisfied with acquiring new information. We must think deeply on two questions as we are immersed in information we care about

  • What fresh perspective have I gained based on this information?
  • Am I able to change or influence someone or something based on this fresh perspective?

So what will it be?

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